The Gospel lesson for the 4th Sunday of Great Lent, Mark 9:17-31, should be a message of hope for many of us.
Often, in the face of tragedy or problems, we feel hopeless, wringing our hands and worriedly asking, “what went wrong?” and “What should I do?” or “why me?”
We see the disciples in this condition in the Gospel lesson. A man brought his sick child to the disciples and asked them to heal his son. But try as they might, the disciples were not able to heal the boy. Jesus had given the disciples the power to exorcise demons (Mark 3:15), and they had had some success (Mark 6:7-13), but in this case they failed. Later, away from the prying ears of the crowd, they privately ask Jesus to explain to them why they couldn’t heal the boy but Jesus was able.
Jesus tells them fasting and prayer are the activities needed to remedy the situation. But note Jesus does not tell them it was their lack of faith that led to their failure. Rather Jesus reminds them how to consciously stand in God’s presence – through prayer and fasting.
The disciples had in fact on another occasion requested that Jesus teach them to pray (Luke 11:1-4). Jesus complied to their request and taught them the Lord’s prayer.
The disciples didn’t ever ask – “teach us to do miracles” – nor did they ask “teach us how to pray so that we get everything we want” NOR even “teach us how to pray so prayer works for us.”
Prayer always puts us in God’s presence. And being in God’s presence it turns out is the goal of the spiritual life. The goal is not getting all our prayers answered – we are not trying to turn God into our personal Amazon.com so that He delivers to our doorstep everything we request.
Prayer puts us into God’s presence, and makes God present to us, which makes union with God possible. We are not just asking for gifts, we are asking to be with the giver of life. St. Paul says: “I seek not what is yours but you” (2 Corinthians 12:14). That precisely should be our attitude toward God – don’t seek what He can give you, seek God the giver of every good and perfect gift.
There are plenty of things in our lives that come between us and God – our worries, our problems, our temptations, our disbeliefs, our selfishness, our lusts – all of these personal demons.
Prayer and fasting cut through all of those things and put us back in the presence of God. The goal is to be not only mindful of God but united to God. We can only begin that journey by prayer and fasting. We have to lay aside all earthly cares and truly believe that the most important thing is to be in God’s presence. And that is true whether things are going good or bad, whether we are in a time of prosperity or poverty, whether experiencing a blessing or a curse. Being in God’s presence is the goal no matter what else is going on around us. Even if it is the moment of our death, if we are in God’s presence, we are where we need to be.
Remember Satan does not tremble because the church has wonderful fellowship hours, or at church dinners, nor at church fund raisers, nor at church schedules.
But Satan is crushed by humble, heart felt prayer – by our standing in God’s presence, by our submitting our lives to God’s will.
As we move into these last two weeks of Great Lent, make Christ Jesus the center of your life so that you always follow Him and you keep Him near you.
One last thing to remember, in ancient Israel, King Hezekiah when he launched his reforms to restore proper religion told the Levites: “My sons, do not now be negligent, for the LORD has chosen you to stand in his presence, to minister to him, and to be his ministers and burn incense to him.” (2 Chronicles 29:11)
The task the priests of Israel were chosen for was to stand in God’s presence! Now we come to the New Testament where the priesthood has been expanded to all believers. The Apostle Peter tells us:
Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5)
Now it is the task of each of us and all of us – not just the priests – to stand in God’s presence and to offer spiritual sacrifices. We all are to “liturgize” together to the glory of God. We are to make God present in every moment of our lives.