"As Jesus came down from the mountain with Peter, James, John ..."
It is this first line that makes the story "shocking." Peter, James and John had just come from the vision of Jesus transfigured before them. Moses and Elijah had appeared. A voice from the cloud spoke lovingly about Jesus. It had to be the most powerful religious experience of their lives and they were euphoric and felt so close to Jesus as they came down the mountain with him.
But immediately they ran into a crowd of disciples who had been unable to heal a boy. It was chaos. Perhaps the father stood in the throng pleading desperately for a cure. His possessed son may have been thrown to the ground again in a violent agony. Jesus' followers argued with scribes, who were probably quite happy that the disciples of this upstart preacher could not heal in his name. Such a public failure for the disciples of Jesus! Peter, James and John felt the peace and happiness drain out of them as they confronted the scene with Jesus.
Isn't this like us? We can be feeling great in our relationship with the Lord, everything going well. We might even be going to Mass every day, doing devotions. Life feels balanced until - boom! - we are confronted with a challenge to our faith, to our peace. We might ask for help from God but we are timid: "If you can, heal us." We don't really trust. We don't really believe.
If you can? We picture Jesus, hearing the emptiness in our prayers, shaking his head. "O faithless generation," he sighs.
It's good for us to hear Jesus' sigh - almost in exasperation. How much more could this be said of our generation!
We ask for favors, for fixes, for healing for many things. But how much do we really want them answered? How much are we willing to lay our faith on the line? So many demons possess us each day. Envy over what others have. Depressions, disappointments in our lives. A selfishness about the way we see our marriage. A tightness of our hearts when it comes to the child who disappoints us the most.
If you can, heal us. We don't really believe.
Jesus lifts his hand to heal us but we call out, "Wait! First heal him - that guy over there who drives me crazy at work!" or we offer him the sister who makes us angry, the friend with whom we have fallen out, the spouse who is distant. "Fix that person. Heal her. Make him better," we urge. We cling to our familiar demons. What would it cost us to let them go?
Today Jesus invites us to examine our demons with our whole hearts. What kind of demons do we want to drive out of our lives? What addictions cripple us, throwing us to the ground each day? We sometimes feel the most powerless over the patterns that have been in our life for a long time, perhaps all our lives. Why could we not drive that spirit out? Why do we feel like saying "Well, I've tried and I just can't do it!"? These demons are powerful, but they can be healed. Jesus can heal us. It takes more effort on our part, more prayer, more faith. We have to ask Jesus to help us open our whole hearts to him, our whole lives. Forgive our unbelief.
"He said to them, 'This kind can only come out through prayer'" and some familiar translations add "and through fasting." Jesus reminds us that the most troubling, difficult, evil problems we face take serious prayer, and maybe even fasting. To break the bond, the hold that some things just have on us, it takes strong medicine. Complete trust in God is a desire we need to ask for, and we have to prepare a place for it in our hearts. We prepare our lives and our hearts for Lent by praying for our deepest desires and with a new awareness of the fasting we will do in Lent. We beg for help.
It is in this moment that Jesus will take us by the hand and raise us from the hard, cold ground onto which we have fallen. We feel his love and his embrace. We really can be healed.