Pentecost +16

Ever have a great day and then something bad or annoying happens to ruin it? Or, for whatever reason, you’re feeling pretty good about yourself and then someone says something that knocks you down a few pegs? The wind out of your sails or smile off your face moment. We’ve all had those, and Jesus was no exception.

St. Mark told us today about Jesus coming upon some of His disciples who were standing around with a large crowd, obviously involved in some deep debate with some of the local Hebrew professors. When the onlookers caught a glimpse of Jesus, they rushed toward Him, St. Mark tells us that they were ‘amazed’ with Him, some translations actually say that when they rushed up to Jesus, they ‘congratulated’ Him, basically saying “Lookin’ good, Jesus!” Some older manuscripts include the words kai exephobethesan – and they were afraid. Well, that’s our clue that Jesus was, up to then, having a great day, that He had a certain glow about Him. Well it turns out that Jesus was having a good day because He had just been on top of one of the good sized hills outside of the city, talking with His old friends Moses and Elijah. Yes, the Transfiguration had just happened, Jesus’ glory had been revealed to Peter, James, and John, and so Jesus was understandably happy and content.

And so, of course, His disciples and the scribes had to go ruin it for Him. Remember that it wasn’t the fact that someone needed attention, in this case the young man who was possessed by an evil spirit, that brought Jesus down from His Transfiguration high; no, it was the fact that His disciples and the scribes were standing around bickering about young man who was possessed by an evil spirit. “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?,” Jesus said to them.

Jesus was not pleased with the scribes or His own followers, but the Gospel today, the good news contained in this passage, is that Jesus being dismayed is not the end of the story; Jesus’ dismay did not occupy Him. Instead, Jesus addresses the real issue at hand by addressing the father of the young man. The man’s father tells Jesus that ever since his son was a boy, that a demon both deaf and dumb, a demon that either can’t or won’t hear what is said or speak back, has possessed his boy, has made him foam at the mouth and stiffen up, and worse yet, has made his son throw himself into the house fire-pit, and worse yet, has made his son throw himself out of their boat and into the water, in an attempt to kill him.

Now just as a side note, some have done their level best to say that this young man had epilepsy, that it was epileptic seizures that caused him his troubles. I’m sure these people have good intentions, but they are wrong. Jews in Roman Palestine were not stupid, nor were the gentiles that lived among them. Even St. Luke, in his gospel accounts, differentiated illness and demonic possession; Luke was, after all, a physician. End side note.

So Jesus hears the father’s litany and consoles him, tells him that if he believes, that all things are possible, that his son can be saved, that his whole family can be saved from despair. The father, in one of the great responses of the Bible, yells out “I believe! Help my unbelief!” I believe, and so give me the courage and strength and wisdom and faith and whatever else I need to believe even harder.

And so Jesus, Himself being the Good News, resumes His occupation, He does the work of the Gospel, casting out evil and restoring the good. And that is still the occupation of the Christian, the work of the Gospel, to cast out evil and restore the good. I pray that none of you will ever be called to cast out a demon, but are demons the only form of evil to be cast out? Of course not. Are there any number of people right around us who need some good news, who need some good to be restored in their lives? Of course there are. In the next few weeks, you’ll be hearing about some new and some old ways we will be reaching out with the Good News: you’ll hear about Semper Fido and our support of their work
bringing dogs and joy into the lives our returning warriors; about the Blessing of the Firetrucks and the Blessing of the Animals, about our work with HomeFront (it is a HomeFront Sunday) and with prayer shawls and the dozen other ongoing, tangible ways we exercise our occupation.

Jesus, He can do His work with just a word; He can say to the demon “Be gone,” and it’s gone. We are not Jesus, and so our work, though it’s the same work, looks a little different. Some evil, Jesus tells us, can only be cast out by way of prayer and fasting, that is, by way of our Christian occupation. Our occupation, then, is to go first to the Lord, to worship and pray, to be devoted to Him and to His Saints, and then, as St. James put it today, to warm and fill, to clothe and feed, and finally to bring others into relationship with the same Lord who, casting off His glory, occupied Himself with the person right in front of Him.

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