May 16, 2016 Monday: 7th Week in Ordinary Time
THE CAUSE OF FAILURE
When Jesus saw that the crowd was running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit. ‘Spirit of dumbness and deafness,’ he said, ‘I order you, come out of him, and don’t go into him again.’ When it had cried and violently convulsed him it came out, and he became like a dead man, so that many said, ‘He is dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand, and raised him up, and he stood up. When he had gone into the house, and when they were by themselves, his disciples asked him, ‘Why were we not able to cast it out?’ ‘This kind’, he said to them, ‘cannot come out except by prayer.’
JESUS must have taken father and son aside. But the crowd, hearing their cries, came running up, and Jesus acted. There was one last struggle, a struggle to complete exhaustion, and the boy was cured. When they were by themselves, the disciples asked the cause of their failure. They were no doubt remembering that Jesus had sent them out to preach and heal and cast out devils (Mark 3:14–15). Why, then, had they this time so signally failed? Jesus answered quite simply that this kind of cure demanded prayer. In effect he said to them, ‘You don’t live close enough to God.’ They had been equipped with power, but it needed prayer to maintain it. There is a deep lesson here. God may have given us a gift, but unless we maintain close contact with him it may wither and die. That is true of any gift. God may give a man great natural gifts as a preacher, but unless he maintains contact with God, he may in the end become only a man of words and not a man of power. God may give a woman a gift of music or of song, but unless she maintains contact with God, she may become a mere professional, who uses the gift only for gain, which is a dreary thing. That is not to say that gifts should not be used for gain. It is right to capitalize on any talent. But it does mean that, even when those blessed with such talent are using it, they should be finding joy in it because they are also using it for God. It is told of Jenny Lind, the famous Swedish soprano, that before every performance she would stand alone in her dressing-room and pray, ‘God, help me to sing true tonight.’
Unless we maintain this contact with God, we lose two things, however great our gift may be.
(1) We lose vitality. We lose that living power, that something extra which makes for greatness. The thing becomes a performance instead of an offering to God. What should be a vital, living body becomes a beautiful corpse.
(2) We lose humility. What should be used for God’s glory we begin to use for our own, and the virtue goes out of it. What should have been used to set God before others is used to set ourselves before them, and the breath of loveliness is gone.
Here is a warning thought. The disciples had been equipped with power direct from Jesus, but they had not nurtured power with prayer, and power had vanished. Whatever gifts God has given us, we lose them when we use them for ourselves. We keep them when we enrich them by continual contact with the God who gave them.
William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark