“But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” [Mark 9:22b-23]

 “ ‘If you can’?”—

 The NIV translation is best here, because it brings out the nested entendres of Jesus come-back to the hapless father. “If you can?” “If you can?” “If you can!” And so on. The variety of possible meanings in this retort are tightly woven threads in a tapestry of meaning. Only on the lips of Jesus is their beauty revealed, as he mirrors the interlocutor’s phrase, and sends it back into the ears of all in this sharp retort. Is he chastising the father’s lack of belief? Is he pleading and encouraging the panicked man to have faith? Is he emphasizing his personal power, for the sake of the witnesses? Is he drawing a connection between faith and answered prayers? Is he admonishing his disciples and all within earshot to give up the hopeless argument that has embroiled them in a dispute with the scribes? Is he teaching by Socratic Method the meaning of belief? Perhaps he is doing all these things, and much more also, as he transforms the father’s plea into a speech-act which creates the possibility of revelation.

 Then immediately, before Jesus can shed any further light on the meaning of his retort, the father blurts out, “I do believe. Help my unbelief!”[1] The father demonstrates his understanding of this encounter. He feels ashamed as well as frustrated that he has not had enough faith to heal his son. He stands condemned before the rabbi Jesus as one who has not enough righteousness in his life, in his home, to escape the torment of his beloved son by demons. “Help!” he screams.

 I am this father. So are you. In belief we come before the god-man Jesus to bring our petitions. In unbelief, we find condemnation in our failings. If only my unbelief, my lack of faith, were less severe! Then perhaps I would have enough faith to get it right, to have the power to heal my own family, or to trust at least that God would answer my prayers.

 And Jesus transforms my plea. He absorbs it and sends it back into my own ears, as my eyes see him heal this boy. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Jesus demonstrates that he himself is the man who believes. Jesus is the one who has the power to help, because Jesus is the one who believes. The question no longer centers on whether or not the boy’s father, or you or I, have enough faith. It’s decisively not a question of whether this father believes strongly enough to balance out his unbelief. It’s not a matter of getting faith and doubt in proper proportion. No, but rather the question is whether we know Jesus as the one who has faith for our sake.  He does. And all things are possible to him, because he is the one man whose faith is perfectly embodied in right relationship with God the Father. We have enough faith therefore, not by our force of will to believe ever more strongly, but by our encounter with the one who believes in proper proportion, and that proportion is to be wholly, personally and perfectly one with the Father. Amen.


[1] Here the NIV is not so good, for it inserts the verb “overcome” in the father’s request: “Help me overcome my unbelief!”

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