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The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (9/12/2021)

Ps. 116:1-9; Isaiah 50:4-10; James 3:1-12; Mark 9:14-29

Tongue, The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, to know how to assist a weary-one with a Word. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught (v. 4).

Isaiah’s “Third Servant Song” describes New Israel, Jesus who listens to God and given a tongue. Later (Isa. 52:13—53:12) by “The Fourth Servant Song” Jesus is Suffering Servant for the sheep; but today he is “Learner Servant” confident in what God has taught for delivery to sin-weary men under satanic attack.

Jesus, Peter, James, and John had just descended Transfiguration mount, where Elijah and Moses conversed with Jesus; God then then spoke from the enveloping cloud, “Listen to him” his Son whom he taught.

Arriving at the mountain base, Jesus confronted pandemonium; his disciples were being mocked by hostile scribes, and some in the crowd, for their inability to exorcise a possessed child of a dumb-and-deaf spirit.

The boy’s father, wearied by years of devilish attack on his son’s life was dispirited, his hope for the child’s restoration dashed; meanwhile Jesus’ disciples were non-plussed at their inability to rid the boy of the tormenting spirit.

Jesus had returned to worldly travail, against which humanity is impotent to avoid or alleviate. As part of their gospel proclamation Jesus’ disciples were empowered for exorcisms signifying world restoration to wholeness in Jesus; but in this instance they were unable to free the boy.

Jesus was upset, calling his disciples “faithless”; and the boy’s father, a believer as well, stood accused, responding “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mk. 9:24). In the end Jesus would explain, “This [dumb-and-deaf spirit] cannot be driven out by anything but prayer (v. 29).

Last Sunday St. James warned that vacant belief in Jesus is nothing short of devilish. Faith must possess its own content for doing salutary works (James 2:14, 18, 19). Grasping and attaching oneself to God’s Learned and Suffering Servant is the substantive of saving faith (cf. Gen. 32:26-28).

Jesus taught the necessity of prayer between his first (Mk. 8:31) and second (9:31) passion predictions. Like the “loaves” between the 5,000 and the 4,000, again the disciples “did not understand [about the Passion]” (9:32; cp. 6:52).

Elijah at the Transfiguration is background for the boy’s exorcism. Elijah was God’s prophet of the Passion, himself having ascended to heaven in a chariot of Fire, as Jesus would ascend before God on the cross.

On their way into the valley Jesus explained to Peter, James, and John—JB his latter-day Elijah, taken to where he did not wish to go (cf. Jn. 21:18b), prison and a death, for herald of Jesus’ own passion; beginning with Gethsemane’s prayer, that the Father take from him the cup of wrath (Mk. 14:34-36a), “yet not what I will, but what thou wilt (v. 36b).

So, for what do you pray; like Elijah, JB, the father of a son suffering at the hand of Satan; and Jesus crucified, we the Baptized are in the Way to a place we would rather not go; nevertheless, we attach ourselves to that place, Jesus’ death in faith’s resolve, “not what I will, but what thou wilt.”

Unlike Jesus, we are neither attentive listeners nor obedient to that Word; rather, like today’s wearied father, we are confronted by circumstances requiring us to acknowledge the deficiency of our faith, leaving us to pray, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

At one and the same time we are saints and sinners (“simil justus et peccator”) who access God and the things of God only as we listen (9:8). Again, for what do you pray and to where are you headed as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death?

Here is the thing, we are believers in “joyous disbelief” (Lk. 24:41); so we must pray for Jesus’ faith, that “The Lord God … awakens morning by morning … awaken[ing] my ear to hear as those being taught” (Isa. 50:4).

Christian prayer may seek many things, but prayer is neither episodic nor occasional; prayer is on-going “morning by morning”. Unbelief dogs us being made in the “likeness” of Christ; causing St. James remark of impious tongues, “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing” (James 3:10).

Faith, of ourselves, is imperfect. Abraham’s faith was gifted outside himself. When praying, we acknowledge, “all things are possible to him who believes (Mk. 9:23) which is to say, salutary faith is of God (Gen. 18:14; Mt. 19:26).

We pray, not in faith independent of Jesus’ death and resurrection; rather, prayer grasps Jesus’ faith in his weary-despair of God’s seeming abandon (Ps. 22:1).

Godly prayer is always associated with the church’s Eucharist in the Way of our new exodus portended by Elijah (cf. Lk. 9:31) for learning, understanding the “Loaves” and the “Passion”, each of which informs the other of our salvation.

In the Resurrection there is this: the Teaching, the Prayers, and fellowship in the Loaves for participation in Jesus’ passion (Acts 2:42). Amen.


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