In Mark 9:14-29 we read about a demon-possessed boy. When his father brought him to Jesus’ disciples they were unable to cast out the demon. In his commentary on Mark N.T. Wright makes some interesting observations about the passage. I found them particularly encouraging and challenging at the same time.
“But the main impression we get is of the disciples’ inability to deal with the problem, and the crowd’s consequent impatience with them. They have turned a corner in their pilgrimage; now it’s getting harder. People today often suppose that the early years of a person’s Christian pilgrimage are the difficult ones, and that as you go on in the Christian life it gets more straightforward. The opposite is frequently the case. Precisely when you learn to walk with Jesus, you are given harder tasks, which will demand more courage, more spiritual energy. Did we suppose following Jesus was like a summer holiday? . . . In this part of the scene, too, the mood is tense; a corner has been turned, and everything seems more demanding. In the first half of the gospel, many people come to Jesus with what appears comparatively easy faith. They touch him and they are healed; it seems as simple as that. But for this man, in this situation, faith is hard. Not for nothing are his words regularly quoted as an ideal prayer for someone caught in the middle between faith and doubt, living in the shadowy world of half-belief where one is never sure whether one can see properly or not.”
“In the story overall, Mark has told us that things are now going to be much harder, but that Jesus, and with him God’s whole saving project, is going to get there in the end. It will take all his resources of spiritual and physical endurance, but he will indeed climb the rock and complete the walk, right to the summit. He will take up his own cross, be faithful to the end, and bring in the kingdom. The question, though, for us must be: are we going with him? Are we left muddled, unable to do even what we used to be able to? Are we facing a new turn in our pilgrimage, needing fresh reserves of spiritual strength, needing to spend more time, and more intensely, in our prayers?”
“And when faced with crises ourselves, do we know how to pray with whatever faith we may have? ‘I believe; help me in my unbelief!’ When we find ourselves at that point, the only thing to do is to put the first foot on the ladder, as for help and start to climb.” (Mark for Everyone, 119-21)