Sometimes Jesus says things that disturb me. In fact, I’m sometimes hurt by some of the things He says. Even though He said them 2,000 years ago, I’m pretty sure that if I had been there back then, He would have said them to me. And I probably would have been offended.
Here’s an example. Jesus’s disciples tried to heal the boy suffering from epilepsy. But they couldn’t. When Jesus arrived on the scene, He minced no words. “ ‘You unbelieving generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me’ ” (Mark 9:19).
Ouch! Every time I read those words I cringe. Jesus seems so frustrated. Exasperated, even.
When I put myself in the disciples’ place, I feel ashamed, right along with them. Lots of my prayers seem to go unanswered. I often fall short of the mountain-moving faith He seems to expect.
It used to be that when I came upon troublesome passages like this one, I would quickly move on. It was uncomfortable to stay with those feelings, so I would read further until I came to something that was a bit softer and more encouraging. But in recent years, God has encouraged me to dialogue with Him about Scriptures that disturb me. It is in these dialogues that He shows me things about Himself that I never would discover any other way.
So when I read this upsetting passage a few weeks ago, I told God how it bothered me. I told Him that I felt ashamed. I knew that I would not do any better than the disciples had, and I could hardly bear to have Him so irritated with me. But what was I to do?
I sensed God leading me to re-read the passage. As I did, something stood out to me that I’d never noticed before. When the disciples could not heal the boy, it seems that they moved on. From all indications, they left the man and his son alone in their desperation.
Vividly, God brought to mind a healing service my late husband asked me to take him to years ago. My husband was wheelchair-bound and profoundly disabled by multiple sclerosis. A traveling minister advertised special services at a local church. He claimed to have prayed for many people and seen them healed. My husband hoped that God might work through this minister to heal him, too.
At the end of the service, hundreds of people thronged forward to be prayed for. My husband patiently waited his turn. Finally, the minister came to my husband. He asked him a question or two, then commanded him to “Rise up and walk!” Just like that.
A couple of men nearby helped to hoist my husband to his feet. But his legs could not hold him and he crumpled back into his chair. By then, the minister had already moved on to the next person. He left my husband and me alone to sort out our disappointment and hurt.
Even greater than the disappointment I felt, however, was the anger. I was furious with the minister. Did he have any clue about what he had just done to our hearts when he prayed, failed to heal, and glibly moved on?
As God brought back that painful memory, the gospel passage made complete sense to me. Those disciples didn’t stay with the man and his son. When they couldn’t heal, they just moved on. They could have said, “We can’t seem to heal your boy, but we know that Jesus can. We’ll wait with you until He comes. He can help. Don’t be discouraged!” But they didn’t.
I’d always thought that Jesus was frustrated because the disciples couldn’t heal the boy. And that seemed unfair because how could they if God didn’t give them the healing power?
But what if Jesus was upset because the disciples abandoned the man and his son? Instead of giving them hope, they just moved on. They didn’t assure the man that Jesus cared and would help—they just left him even more desperate than they’d been when he first came.
And I realized that I do that, too. It’s easy to pray for things once or twice. If God answers right away, it’s wonderful. But what about when I pray for desperate people and nothing changes? I may pray for a few days, weeks, or even months, but when God doesn’t seem to be acting, my faith wanes. It’s all too easy to move on to other people’s prayer needs.
Perhaps that is what Jesus got so indignant about. After all, He never abandons us. He walks through valleys, floods, and fires with us. He never leaves us without hope. Even if He doesn’t answer now, He assures us that He will answer one day.
Now when I read this passage, I see it in a new light. Instead of feeling rebuked, I feel exhorted: Stay with people, Cynthia. Pray through with them. Don’t give up when the answers don’t come right away. Encourage My people: “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come” (Isaiah 35:4).