Mark 9:18

and, wherever it seizes him, it dashes him down; he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth, and he is pining away. I asked your disciples to drive the spirit out, but they failed.”

here are the details
how life falls apart

power beyond our control
casts a shadow over us

we respond a-shivering
in its shaking cold grasp

with intense stammering
no swallowing foaming spittle

teeth grind our meaning
into nonsense bits of noise

finally centered in hell is darkness
we are frozen still

we came with hope now dashed
children dismissed turned away

whether they couldn’t or wouldn’t
your so-called healers are failures

How helpless the child!

How helpless the parent!

How helpless the disciples!

Not only helpless, but nigh on to hopeless!

The evocative word beyond simple description is ξηραίνω (xērainō, dry up, wither, grow rigid). This is the same word used back in 3:1 about a man with a withered hand.

In Mark repetition bears attending to. Since it is written to his readers there is opportunity here to reflect on what has dried up, withered, stiffened in our life. We may even be able to get back to the description of people who have relied on external power and developed a “stiff neck” or “hardened heart”.

Though not described in this detail, we may also remember Jairus’ daughter and the sense of helplessness that comes through that story. Or, some of the details may remind us of the Gerasene being full of power but unable to control it.

Of significance, LaVerdiere-249 recalls, “Jesus had sent the Twelve on mission with authority over unclean spirits (6:7). Summarizing their mission, the Gospel said that the Twelve drove out many demons (6:13).” So what has gone on here that their practice hasn’t borne fruit in this instance? This question is good ground for the breaking out of an argument. It doesn’t need the fleeting mention of the Scribes. It can be expected simply on the basis of different understandings among the 9 disciples left behind. A question still facing the church—What is our excuse that justifies our failure?

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