In Mark’s Gospel we meet a boy who is described as having an evil spirit. Reading the account, it is possible that this boy had Epilepsy, and perhaps other additional needs too. So often we read the stories of the encounters that Jesus had with people through the words of first or second hand witnesses to these events, the Gospel writers. Sometimes it is helpful to use what we know of these encounters, and our own imaginations, to re-examine the story from the perspective of the person Jesus met themselves. Let’s explore this boys story from his own perspective, imagining what it might have been like for him: “My name is Benjamin…”
A boy described as having an evil spirit (Mark 9:14-29)
His father had asked the disciples to heal the boy, but they had been unable to do so. The boy is brought before Jesus and promptly fits again. There is some discussion about the belief in Jesus of the father, who is rebuked by Jesus for saying “if you can do anything…”, Jesus responding that “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Jesus then heals the boy, and subsequently answers the Disciples’ questions about why they had been unsuccessful in healing the boy themselves; “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
“My name is Benjamin and I’m 10 years old now; I had been like this for as long as I can remember… most days were the same. I would start to feel a bit strange in my tummy, sometimes in my head too; it’s hard to describe but it was like a wave going through my head. I sometimes felt ‘tingly’ all over too and would start to see flashing coloured lights; I would be frightened and would always know what was coming next… everything would go black.
The next thing I knew I would be waking up and feeling awful, so tired, desperately shielding my eyes from the light. Sometimes I would be in pain from an injury or a burn that I didn’t have before. My parents said that I had got an ‘evil spirit’ that grabbed me and threw me to the ground; I didn’t know what an evil spirit was. Sometimes as I fell to the ground I would land in the fire and get burned; a couple of times I had been near the river and ended up in it, nearly drowning. I would have no memory of what happened to me, I would just wake up afterwards; it was horrible. Because of what kept happening to me I couldn’t speak anymore, couldn’t tell people how I was feeling; it made me cry a lot.
Dad took me to see some men that he said might be able to help me, to get rid of my ‘evil spirit’. They put their hands on me and said some words that I couldn’t hear properly and didn’t understand, but nothing happened. There was a big argument with a crowd of people all stood around me, I was scared and wished that they would all just leave me alone.
Then another man arrived, everyone was pleased to see him and Dad asked him if he could help me. His name was Jesus and at first he seemed a bit cross with Dad, I was a little scared, but then I started to feel unwell and suddenly everything went dark.
The next thing I remembered was that this Jesus was holding my hand. It felt warm and I felt different. I didn’t have the usual feelings that I had after I had fallen to the ground, I didn’t feel tired and I wasn’t struggling with the sunlight. I felt so peaceful, so filled with joy, I had never felt so well. I could hear everyone around me clearly. I wasn’t afraid.
Jesus looked at me and lifted me up onto my feet. As he looked at me it was like all the love in the world was somehow pouring into me; it was wonderful. Everyone was so happy and Dad took me home with tears of joy in his eyes. I can speak again now and I’ve never been thrown to the ground again since, everyone says that my ‘evil spirit’ has gone… forever.”
You can read the full passage from Mark’s Gospel at the end of this post.
What does this story, this passage, teach us? Well, looking at it through the experience of the boy himself, it is a wonderful story of healing and restoration. The boy is brought to Jesus and is miraculously healed. He experiences the love of Jesus in a very personal and wonderful way and is restored, whole, to his family.
But it is a passage that is also often used today, incorrectly, to rebuke parents of children with additional needs for their percieved lack of faith. The point wrongly being made that if parents had more faith, their child would be healed, comparing parents with the father of the boy in this story. Jesus here though shows us that healing depends on the power and will of God, not the extent of our faith. The disciples had proved powerless and the father’s faith was limited. It is God alone who decides who will be healed or not, rather than the level of faith or lack of faith of the parents. Jesus’ explanation about prayer shows that victory over the enemy, of which this healing is shown as an example, is not to be won cheaply but at great cost, going on to teach the disciples about his death and resurrection.
• Do we attribute healing or lack of healing to the faith or lack of faith of parents? Or to our own power or lack of power?
• Or do we accept that it is God’s power that heals, and God alone who chooses who will be healed or not?
Mark 9:14-29 New International Reader’s Version (NIRV)
Jesus Heals a Boy Who Is Controlled by an Evil Spirit
When Jesus and those who were with him came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them. The teachers of the law were arguing with them. When all the people saw Jesus, they were filled with wonder. And they ran to greet him.
“What are you arguing with them about?” Jesus asked. A man in the crowd answered. “Teacher,” he said, “I brought you my son. He is controlled by an evil spirit. Because of this, my son can’t speak anymore. When the spirit takes hold of him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth. He grinds his teeth. And his body becomes stiff. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit. But they couldn’t do it.”
“You unbelieving people!” Jesus replied. “How long do I have to stay with you? How long do I have to put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” So they brought him. As soon as the spirit saw Jesus, it threw the boy into a fit. He fell to the ground. He rolled around and foamed at the mouth.
Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “Since he was a child,” he answered. “The spirit has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us. Please help us.” “ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for the one who believes.” Right away the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief!”
Jesus saw that a crowd was running over to see what was happening. Then he ordered the evil spirit to leave the boy. “You spirit that makes him unable to hear and speak!” he said. “I command you, come out of him. Never enter him again.” The spirit screamed. It shook the boy wildly. Then it came out of him. The boy looked so lifeless that many people said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand. He lifted the boy to his feet, and the boy stood up.
Jesus went indoors. Then his disciples asked him in private, “Why couldn’t we drive out the evil spirit?” He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
New International Reader’s Version (NIRV)
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