14 And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16 And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” 19 And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” 20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out  and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. 28 And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (Mark 9:14-29 (Esv)
And Jesus said to him, “’if you can’! all things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
I believe! Help my unbelief. There’s a paradox there. Not a contradiction, but a paradox, and it is the paradox of the Christian life, the paradox of being saint and sinner, which is who you are. Saints on account of righteousness of Christ with which he clothed us in baptism. Sinners on account of the all too familiar reality we live with every day. I believe! Help my unbelief. It is the reaction of a tortured soul, of a desperate father fighting for the life of his son. And it gives expression to the reality of our own souls, it is the prayer of our hearts in the face of unclean spirits wishing to make us deaf and dumb to the voice of the gospel, a fitting petition for those of us who struggle to live, who fight to believe, to hold on to Christ amidst this faithless generation.
This faithless generation, as Jesus calls it, rebuking the unbelief he encounters everywhere amidst the gentiles, the scribes and the Pharisees and his own disciples with whom they are arguing. He rebukes his own disciples for their unbelief. Yes, the rebuke was meant for them too, his own disciples who had not faith enough to heal this boy, though everything is possible for those who believe. Here we get a glimpse of how difficult it was for Jesus to fulfill his task, the commission he was given by the Father. To live in this world of sin and death, and to die for us sinners that have such a hard time believing. What it must have been like for Peter, James and John to witness this. They were just with Jesus at the top of Mt. Hermon, the mount of Transfiguration. They just saw Jesus whiter than the snow that filled the crevices on that snow packed peak, they just saw him talking to Moses and Elijah discussing his journey to Jerusalem. Just that morning as dawn broke amidst the sea of clouds, they saw the glory he had left behind to become one of us, they felt the love of the Father for His Son, as he enveloped them in the cloud, and shook them with fear to the forest floor commanding them to listen to his beloved Son in his thunderous voice. And now, as the glory fades from his face in the evening sun, he is encountered once again by the petty squabbles of unbelievers. Like returning to work after a particularly pleasant vacation. You know, the kind where you just needed a break. The kind where you did nothing, where you left town, turned off your cell phone, smashed the screen in on your laptop and used your tablet for a clay pigeon on the skeet range, and then spent a week drinking margaritas on the beach, reconnected with the people you love, the people who love you. Then you return to work, and everything has piled up, your computer is out of commission and the phone won’t quit ringing with telemarketers trying to sell you a fundraiser for the youth group. Perhaps you were hoping your first Monday back would feel a bit more like a Friday, or even a Wednesday. Now, perhaps you can understand what it was like for Jesus to meet with his Father, to hear the comforting and encouraging words of Moses and Elijah and after a long peaceful but arduous descent off the mountain to be greeted by a bunch of squabbling sinners sowing unbelief, and disciples too incompetent to do the job left for them in his absence. Would it all be for nothing? Would the son of man find faith when he returned?
We all ask that in our own way, don’t we?
I hear it as far less than a rhetorical question in the voice of Sunday School teachers frustrated by the lack of attendance starting mid-October. I hear it being asked as attendance waxes and wanes through the year, when one family drops off their teenager for youth group and the rest are absent, and the next week the same thing happens with a different kid. Will it all be for nothing? Perhaps you feel some of it yourself, the frustration Jesus has here, when you encounter this unbelieving world that won’t hear the gospel, that laughs and mocks what little faith you have left. Yes, we can sympathize with Jesus rebuking this faithless generation, it hasn’t gotten any better. We haven’t gotten any better.
I believe, help thou my unbelief. Yes, now we can identify with the father in this story. So hard for us sinners to remain saints. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. It availeth nothing. And Jesus has compassion. This is who he comes for. This is who he loves, the weak, the humble, the poor and distressed. He commands the spirit to come out of the boy, and the spirit leaves him for dead, but Jesus raises him up. The fight against sin, death and the devil is that way. The success of the fight against such spirits inhabiting our souls leaves us dead. But it is then that Jesus takes our hand, and lifts us up to restore us to the care of our Father, the care of his Father who raised him up when his own journey was done, when he himself in battle against the unbelief of this world gave up his own spirit and breathed his last, even so that we who believe and have been baptized have been buried into his death so that just as he was raised from the dead to the Glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life, not in unbelief but believing.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding Keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.