Mark 9:33

They came to Capernaum. When Jesus had gone into the house, he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?”

a lack of questions
only deepens arguments

each and every certainty
wedges a wider gap

so many bystander perspectives
cancel each other out

was it one shot or three
from that knoll or rooftop

who knows how we first tangled
only now there is no web escape

we’ve now killed one another
not even 6 creation-days will suffice

I know you can be mistaken
I’m still not sure about me

On a journey of learning about the consequences of living a life that mimics deep compassion through the short-hand command of “love your neighbor”—embodying a new way of living while still suffering and dying amidst an economic–political–social model of scarcity—it appears that those who were supposed to be learning a new way of being have been side-tracked by a shiny object (privilege).

They could be arguing about any number of past wonderings about seeds or identity or loaves or weather witching or prayer or . . . .

Almost any past conundrum can be used as a present excuse to avoid a current difficulty. It is so much easier to return to a typical sophomoric speculation than stick to an immediate concern. Even though we still won’t be able to argue our way out of a koan, it feels much more manageable than being stuck with trading our contracted identity for new suffering. Phrased this way it importantly mirrors other traditions that trade suffering for a new identity.

This is not untypical for all those important questions along the way that we have put off for one reason or another. We need only remember that the disciples were afraid to ask Jesus about what we call the hero’s journey synopsized into suffering, death, and new life. When the basic questions are avoided there is an automatic backsliding to smaller and smaller arguments raised to higher and higher stakes to distract us from the persistence of the reality of Empire all around and an intentional and mistaken dismissal of a healing balm that would rouse a slumbering repentance with a kiss of hope.

Mark 9:32

But the disciples did not understand his meaning and were afraid to question him.

of course they didn’t understand
even more off course is our claim
that we unquestioningly get it
no questions about specialness
just ask us how nice we are
we’ll let you know how much nicer
you could be than bring this up

still trying to go by the book
in Metaphorland
get definitions lined out first
thins mystery to a dictionary
and not a recent one at that
so a lot of nodding goes on
as hypnotized sleep-walkers shuffle on

It will be easy for readers to deride the disciples and expect their privileged position will keep them from the same error of being silenced by a projection of fear of suffering and death.

Sabin-1177 reminds us,

The disciples are stand-ins for the audience, and their “slowness to understand” functions as a device that stimulates the response of the hearer; when they fail to hear or see, the listener is moved to fill in the blanks. Finally, the very weakness of the disciples serves the theological purpose of highlighting God’s inclusiveness. Their glaring faults indicate that they are decidedly not a special elite. Through his images of the non-comprehending disciples Mark excludes no one but invites all who listen to identify.

Our place of identification goes beyond simply not knowing the rest of the story. There are usually several spots in our lives where we are caught between not understanding and not wanting to understand because the consequence of understanding would be to change the direction of our life from putting ourselves and our comfort first.

Stephen D. Moore’s chapter on “Deconstructive Criticism” in Anderson97–101 follows Derrida in suggesting that which puts the disciples in a position of being both insiders and outsiders is that Jesus’ plain speaking is more like writing than speaking. Writing loses some author-ity, leading to a willingness to let mis-understanding stand. We get the disciples more when we are more skeptical of ourselves.

“Writing, traditionally, is the errant medium with its meaning cut adrift from the consciousness of its producer…. Jesus’ speech is unable to reach its mark. It falls to the ground and is picked up wrongly…. Like Jesus who drifts from misunderstanding to misunderstanding across the surface of Mark’s page, writing has always been a wandering outcast drifting from (mis)reading to (mis)reading.”

Mark 9:31

for he was instructing his disciples, and telling them – “The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of his fellow men, and they will put him to death, but, when he has been put to death, he will rise again after three days.”

some teachings
are best uninterrupted

those whose mystery
runs too deep

there is no explaining
only stretched soaking

an immersion
until fluency comes

the click unexplainable
the translation intuitive

intentional killing field
three-day cooling-off period

finality taken back
interrupts everything else

Mark is always ambiguous about who is going to suffer, die, rise. This gives opportunity for those engaging this anticipation to be able to wriggle away from its arc in their lives. They can deny that Jesus means himself. They can escape applying it to themselves or their loved ones.

The great, final, last temptation Jesus will face is this one about stepping outside the arena of consequences in a world privileging a few over the many and the power needed to maintain such inequality. [Note: It would be helpful for readers to review again Nikos Kazantzakis’ Last Temptation of Christ.]

We have heard these words before and will hear them again. Such repetition reminds us how difficult it is for us to step outside our desire for comfort, desire for some avenging angel, or desire for a plan that will work itself out without engagement by such as ourselves.

This difficulty can be seen in the disciples responses. As they avoid putting Jesus squarely into this model, they are able to also keep from seeing themselves ever having to participate in the suffering inherent in limited lives.

Sabin-1143 notes: “The paradigm of Jesus’ dying and rising is thus projected as both universal and particular; his death and resurrection is special to the beloved son and at the same time normative.”

It is the normative part of this that blocks seeing it as applicable to Jesus and reminds us again about the difficulty that arises when we emphasize divinity having a great gap from humanity. Such divine glorying eventually and essentially diminishes every connection we try to make between the two.

Mark 9:30

Leaving that place, Jesus and his disciples went on their way through Galilee; but he did not wish anyone to know it,

travel for travel’s sake
carries an internal wilderness
perpetually on retreat

new sites and sights
bring insights
unrealized ’til now

first awkward rhythms
add their energy
to walk a new path

a surprising cuisine
extends an already wide table
storing stories for another time

even time slips surly bonds
making more precious still
unusually usual moments

like a shadow too bright
everywhere as nowhere
this time lingers

This transition gives opportunity to review the import of Galilee in Mark’s Story. Eventually Galilee will be where the story comes together beyond the story (16:7) and we are able to meet Jesus again for the first time (reading Marcus Borg is helpful here).

In Chapter 1, Galilee is where Jesus comes from before we have baptism and repentance and changed lives (1:9). After Baptizer John’s arrest, it is where Jesus first takes the same good news with which he was baptized (1:14).

It was in Galilee that the first disciples were called to join this baptismal message (1:16). Note that these calls occurred while Jesus was just passing through Galilee and now a specific teaching about an end to their discipleship will round out their call.

The work of Jesus in teaching his disciples spilled into the region and news was spreading about Jesus, if not “good news” (1:28). At this point the focus is on healings in Galilee (1:39). This has echoes as people from Galilee travel to other places to witness additional healings and exorcisms (3:7).

Leading citizens of Galilee are complicit in Herod’s failures foreshadowing Jesus’ hometown failure and death in Jerusalem (6:21).

Most recently Galilee is a pivot point in Jesus’ journeys (7: 31).

Galilee will then become a promised land (14:28), present at his death through women from Galilee (15:41), and a place for a new call (16:7).

Here, Galilee is a Disciples’ Retreat to clarify the consequence of living compassion in the midst of Empire, Power and Vanity.

Mark 9:29

“A spirit of this kind,” he said, “can be driven out only by prayer.” 

prayer prayer
you think
we forgot
to pray

no way
we used
your words
exactly true

well drawls Jimmy Jesus
words are the least of prayer
they are but echoes
of a lived connection

did I pray or not
with direct address and command
here’s your next assignment
learn to pray without prayer

of course
prayless prayer
requires presence
beyond results

Earlier we proposed that Jesus’ command to the spirit of muteness was a prayer. Now it is important to look past the surface to questions about prayer being less formal than spoken or cast more widely.

Was prayer a whole constellation of being that then surfaces in words? What was missing in what Philippians 2:5 calls the “mind of Christ”. Without a consciousness of this “mind” or “being”, unformed prayer that goes beyond intention is not able to coalesce.

Many commentators identify the request of the parent to help their “unbelief” as the prayer referred to here.

This connects faith and its organization as a catalyst in healings. There have been prior examples of the faith of another being an important component of healing.

Faith and prayer are just ambiguous enough to have us think we know what they are and can mobilize them to get our way.

Myers115 is helpful about unbelief not being “incorrect doctrine”:

For Mark, unbelief is the despair that is dictated to us by the powers and principalities of this world. Unbelief is a life script that is fixed and says to us that nothing can really change. If we accept this life script and the despair that comes with it, the revolutionary vision and practice of the gospel are rendered impotent.
Prayer for Mark is that personal and communal struggle against this temptation to despair. It is wrestling with the demons within us that tempts us to abandon the way of Jesus. Prayer is naming and casting out the demons that silence us and make us docile before the status quo of self and society.

Mark 9:28

When Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

we did everything by the book
textus receptus to the letter
it has always worked before

now that we won’t be embarrassed
we sweetly ask
what the hell went wrong

our notes are in order
our intentions unhurried
ivory-soap pure

check our equations
they rebalance dystopia
toward Paradise Extended

so this won’t happen again
what’s this secret ingredient
you forgot to mention

In typical Markan fashion, there is a public event and a private extrapolation of it for the disciples and readers. This is still a common process where our public failure is examined in private with those we trust.

A review is helpful to check off where things went awry.

The disciples were authorized to go out two-by-two to cast out demons. Here we had nine disciples. Check plus.

The disciples have practiced casting out demons and Jesus marveled at their ability. Check. Confidence, present.

The disciples ran through their exorcism check-list and did their work from the least intrusive method to their most energetic. Check. No technique was left untried.

Was there some environmental aspect that heretofore has gone unnoticed. Was it the doubt of the Scribes? Was it the unbelief of the parent? Was it something about the crowd? Was this a new demon that didn’t understand it was weaker than it pretended to be?

As readers we are also curious about this failure. We wonder, “Might it have something to do with hospitality or humility? After all, the practicum of the disciples took place with them receiving hospitality and the humility to not look to better themselves through gifts of healing. Was it their being if not their doing that was getting in the way? Had they started to argue amongst themselves when it became obvious that their work wasn’t working?

It would be expected that the disciples had tried to wrestle this one out on the way to their way-house. Like the joke about male drivers who are lost, asking was a last resort.

Mark 9:27

But Jesus took his hand, and lifted him; and he stood up.

passivity amidst opportunity
no long-term strategy
for anything but disappointment

where trapped by a lingering past
with no horizon in sight
we sleep and sleep again

volition exhausted
astral projection sputtering
we are in space alone

a hand is given who knew
fractured assurance coalesces
a hand is taken who knows

lift pirouette lifted
a hero’s journey continues
after a daunting trial

The “prayer” addressed the spirit of muteness, the fear that keeps us silent, the anger that stops our tongue, the impotence that shuts us down.

The “hand” addresses the person. All the way through this story care is shown on a one-to-one basis. The parent has been working in the background for years and is still engaged by bringing the child where they hope a difference will be made. The healer reaches to touch, to hold, to aid in bringing them to their feet.

Here we are reminded of the external world that so impacts our life. It may be a “spirit” working directly or a “spirit-of-the-age” that works on whole systems within which we live and move and have being. This external presence needs dealing with.

Regardless of the setting in which we find ourself there is an internal reality as well as an external. This can be bolstered while under the influence of the social, political, economic forces battling their way for control. Should an oppression suddenly cease and we find our struggle against it so consuming that we become unbalanced when aggression is removed, a hand to reorient is quite needed.

When the tables have been turned it is never easy to find a growth spot still available to us. We have invested so much in dealing with repressive realities that we keep trying whatever resistance we were able to muster in a new situation that doesn’t need our defensive maneuverings. We just need to stand in our new life for a little to get the lay of the land again and to get back to putting one foot in front of another and string together one word and a next and next.

We sometimes talk about keeping a main thing the main thing. Here we need to keep two main things: a prayer and a hand.

Mark 9:26

With a loud cry the spirit threw the boy into repeated convulsions, and then came out from him. The boy looked like a corpse, so that most of them said that he was dead.

being born again
is terribly difficult
is a fearful making
of every thing a nothing
emptied unto death

we were a nobody
a pawn in another’s whim
their meaning gone
leaves us limp
unable to rise to the occasion

might as well be dead
burned at the stake
drowned in a witch’s chair
are far easier
than this stillness

all directions open
but no clear first step
on which to pin
a next life’s journey
after occupation

We have been focusing on the parent and their “faith”. Finally, Jesus prays for the child.

Too often we see prayer as a fix-it for some situation, not remembering that prayer is process before it is repentance and reparation—that often things get darker before a dawn.

There are many different ways that lives are convulsed. In recent days addiction is an expected situation in which friends and family would pray. It is not unusual for such prayer to lead first to deeper difficulties, convulsions, even moments of death. The same is true of addicted nations when leaders and corporations posing as people can’t look anywhere but to their own profit through a too easy justification that their betterment will automatically lead to others being better off. Generosity does not blossom when telling that sort of falsity to itself.

Jesus prays and the result is death. This is a deepening of a teaching about prayer. Seemingly the disciples had not caught a larger picture of prayer than Pray-and-Heal. It is the easy connection of starting and finish lines that catches our attention. But this is not much of a race when a false start brings us back to the same line and, having passed it once to start finds us crossing it again to finish what was so poorly begun. We are beginning to see a difficulty with anything that is turned into a technique. We then begin to find all manner of justifications for why prayer didn’t work in particular cases. It must be a lack of faith on someone’s part or god has a larger plan or teaching in mind or . . . .

Prayer peels away our excuses and leaves us closer to reality.

Mark 9:25

But, when Jesus saw that a crowd was quickly collecting, he rebuked the foul spirit, “Deaf and dumb spirit, it is I who command you. Come out from him and never enter him again.”

it’s show time
in no time flat
wilderness retreat turns
a crowded-around test

we’ve made our claim
extravagant as it seems
and been called on it
time for a big voice

loudness brings out harshness
no second chance
no bargaining
out damned spot

not only out
but away
never to return
that’s that

If prayer is needed for this healing, Jesus prays in a scolding, rebuking tone—“Come out! Go away!” This is not, “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray….”

Myers112 says this is the first of three invitations to pray in Mark:

One is after his dramatic Temple action, when he urges the disciples to believe in the possibility of a world free of the exploitative Temple-state (11:23–25). The Other is just before Jesus is seized by security forces, when he summons his followers to prayer as a way of “staying awake” to the Way of the cross (14:32–42).

Myers goes on to claim:

This episode suggests that prayer is the contemplative discipline of self-knowledge—an invitation to examine the roots of our impotence. If we wish to cast out this demon we must engage in the difficult process of confronting the illusions that paralyze us and the unconscious power of repressed trauma that keeps us silent.

Finally Myers115 leads us to: “deepen our prayer life in order to follow him, he is calling us to develop a spirituality of social action.” Different contexts, individuals and communities help us: “explore and develop a prayer life that empowers…public discipleship.”

Given the deep requirement for order that every “principality and power” demands, public discipleship will seem as crude and rebukeful as the harshness of this prayer. Accusations and consequences will follow this model of prayer that will lead to choices of trust. Galston154 is important here: “Religion remains fundamentally community centered, and in this respect it remains counter-intuitive in a libertarian age.”—Common Good v. Individual Freedom. Pray well.

Mark 9:23

“Why say ‘possibly’?” Jesus replied.“Everything is possible for one who has faith.”

in the face of possibilities
do the faith thing
trust your choice
proceed apace

be not dismayed
when faith fails
given the number of choices
and those that can be made

faith is but a facet
a gateway to decision
wherein action and reaction
have a loosened connection

like hope in an unseen way
to arrive at a desired destination
faith keeps possibilities in play
even after they have passed

More clearly we might hear, “Jesus responded, ‘Regarding your question, “If, I can do anything?”, all things are possible for the one who trusts.”

And we are thrown back into the mystery of the locus of belief, faith, or trust (choose the term you are least comfortable with to test your assumptions).

Where is the presumption of action?

On Jesus? If so, why was he limited in healing in his hometown.

On the Parent? If so, how are they different from Jairus. How are they similar to the friends bringing a helpless man on a mat and lowering him through a roof?

On the Disciples? If so, is it as simple as they weren’t authorized to continue healing outside Jesus’ supervision? Only when they have enough hours in will they be authorized to set up their own practice?

On the Crowd? If so, can one person’s lack of trust disable everyone else’s desire? What percentage of doubters can be bargained for and still have an effective healing?

On the Reader? If so, have you read enough yet to engage your partnership with Jesus or is this still a story happening only to others? Could The Neverending Story have been written without alternating scenes of Bastian, the reader of the Neverending Story, and Bastian, the hero in the Story itself? At what point does a story step outside its bounds, break its fourth wall, suspend our disbelief, to become our story? Another way of asking this is, “What Fairy Tale is your story?”

The Neverending Story and Princess Bride are stories of wishes that Mark would have named πιστεύντι (faith/belief/trust). What do you wish with more than all your heart? Here lies a possibility seed.