I recently read over these passages, and remembered that they had always puzzled me (for different reasons). First we have Jesus healing a blind man, as is His wont (Mk 8: 22-26):
22 Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. 23 So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything.
24 And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.”
25 Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. 26 Then He sent him away to his house, saying, “Neither go into the town, nor tell anyone in the town.”
Do I need to spell it out? Isn’t that an odd story for an omnipotent, omniscient God? It reminds me of going to the optometrist, when he keeps flipping the lenses to figure out your prescription. “Better or worse? Better or worse? Better or worse?”
There are plenty of stories where Jesus draws out the healing, but there is usually an obvious reason He’s doing it (for the purpose of teaching a lesson). Yet I don’t see what the purpose of the intermediate step is here. Any theories?
A little bit later there is another odd one (Mk 9: 14-29):
14 And when He came to the disciples, He saw a great multitude around them, and scribes disputing with them. 15 Immediately, when they saw Him, all the people were greatly amazed, and running to Him, greeted Him. 16 And He asked the scribes, “What are you discussing with them?”
17 Then one of the crowd answered and said, “Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit. 18 And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not.”
19 He answered him and said, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me.” 20 Then they brought him to Him. And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him, and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth.
21 So He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?”
And he said, “From childhood. 22 And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
23 Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”
24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
25 When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!” 26 Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.
28 And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?”
29 So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”
What’s going on in this one? What does He mean by “this kind”? Is there a hierarchy of demonic spirits?
Also, what does Jesus mean when He says it can only come out by prayer and fasting? Throughout the gospel, Jesus tells people that they just need to have faith–in fact He says it in verse 23 in this very story. And indeed when He first hears that his disciples couldn’t perform this task, His conclusion is that they are a “faithless generation.” (I’m assuming He’s talking about the disciples who couldn’t heal the boy, right?)
So what is the story with His declaration in verse 29? Obviously Jesus didn’t engage in prayer and fasting to cure the boy.