I’ve been noticing in my reading of the Gospels that Jesus appears quite comfortable with reality–even when it gets messy and awkward. He doesn’t avoid, divert or deflect. He doesn’t put a spiritual spin on it. He’s never anxious or embarrassed.
Instead, Jesus allows life to unfold as it will. He steps in the midst of it and welcomes what is. It’s there that he does the extraordinary, and people are radically changed.
Real is sacred.
Case in point is the passage in Mark 9:14-29.
A desperate, distraught father brings his severely afflicted son to Jesus. It’s the man’s last hope.
He’s already asked the disciples to cure his son, but they struck out. A ruckus of theological debate breaks out as a result, and the tension is now running high.
I would have been looking for the nearest exit. I hate conflict. I could see no good coming of the scene being made.
At my best, I would have given Jesus an anxious look, letting him know he better step in and take care of this mess. The sooner the better, too.
Jesus doesn’t rush into action. He seems in no hurry to heal the son, nor relieve the father’s angst.
He simply asks a question. Then waits.
The father spills his story. He tells Jesus and the gathered crowd his painful secret.
Shame makes one keep their story of a demonized son silent. It’s best to keep such family secrets behind closed doors. We work hard to hide our shame, making sure no one knows.
But reality refuses to cooperate. Eventually life events converge and our secret leaks out. The cat’s out of the bag, and the father has little choice but to tell his story.
Just when it can’t get anymore uncomfortable, the son acts out right there on the spot. Right in front of God and everyone.
The son writhes and convulses. Dirt combines with spittle, smearing mud all over the young man. Shrieks add to the drama.
Jesus is unfazed. He doesn’t put an end to the scene. He doesn’t rush in to rescue the father or son. Jesus allows truth to spill out everywhere, for all to see.
No denying reality now.
The father can’t take it any longer. He begs Jesus to intervene. Just when we expect Jesus to save the day, one more bit of truth surfaces.
The father comes to terms with his conflicting thoughts and emotions. He confesses his doubt.
“I believe. Help me in my unbelief!!”
I imagine there were times when the man’s son was free from the demonic affliction. For days, perhaps weeks and months, all was calm. The father could conveniently ignore his son’s condition. Faith came easy. He had his theology and doctrine lined up straight.
But when your son is flailing and contorting and thrashing on the ground, saliva bubbling out of his mouth, streaks of mud on his face and clothes, screaming shrieks of anguish and obscenities—well faith tends to unravel.
Jesus lets it come apart at the seems. The father has an important confession to make. Miraculous intervention before the father has a chance to come to terms with his truth–before he wrestles with the reality of the paradox of faith–would be premature.
In due time, Jesus intervenes. The boy and his father are restored to wholeness.
A good deal of contemporary theology teaches us to minimize, avoid, deny and skirt reality. We invest much time and energy attempting to pray away reality.
We see it as an enemy.
We assume Jesus is uncomfortable with our reality as well. Shame convinces us we are unacceptable in our reality, so we opt for damage control and reality management.
We become heavily invested in our denial, self-protection and shame. We go great links to avoid acknowledging our truth.
It takes reality, real-life experience, to blow the covers off. Even then, we’re a hard sell.
But when reality comes, when we finally embrace what is real, we discover an amazing truth. Jesus is standing with us in the middle of it all.
The healing begins.