Mark presents us with another account of exorcism. We have to understand that the arrangement of the stories in the gospels is not necessarily chronological. The evangelists may have arranged the order of the stories to consolidate their preaching point.
Whether this story happened directly after the Transfiguration we don’t know. It is presented as such so we accept it. What Mark chooses to emphasize about the story is also important, and this particular exorcism story not only re-affirms the authority of Jesus over the demons, but it highlights the disciples’ lack of faith. The were not able to cast out the demon, and through the rest of this chapter Mark will continue to emphasize the unbelief and misunderstanding of the disciples, the scribes and the Pharisees. At the same time Mark shows Jesus speaking in clearer and clearer terms.
With his prediction of the passion Jesus now speaks clearly. Then in the Transfiguration his glory is seen clearly. Now in another exorcism his authority is seen clearly. Still the disciples don’t get it and Jesus is exasperated. “How long must I be with you?” he questions. The exorcism story contains some important details. First of all, the possessed is a child and he has been like this since early childhood. The story shows the effect of sin even from childhood. The devil and sin is woven into our lives from the very beginning. The man’s unbelief and his cry to the Lord to help his unbelief reflects the theme of the chapter which is all about the disciples unbelief . After the demon leaves the child he lies there as if dead, but Jesus raises him up, thus with a dramatic action Jesus foretells his own ultimate conquest over evil, his death and resurrection.
To consolidate this teaching Jesus then moves on through Galilee–moving on–always moving on–and gives the second prediction of his passion. He is very clear: “The Son of Man will be killed and three days after his death he will rise.” The disciples can’t understand and because of their lack of understanding they are also afraid to ask any further questions. Why are they afraid to ask any further questions? Because this is not the outcome they are hoping for. “What’s all this talk of dying?” they seem to say, “Doesn’t Jesus know he’s destined for big things? He’s going to be the King and we’re going to be the main members of his cabinet.”
As they continued they were debating about who was going to be greatest. They totally and completely missed the point. So Jesus teaches them by taking a child and saying the greatest of them must be the least–like this little child. We must remember that in Jesus’ time they did not have the sentimental view of children we have today. Children were considered to be only partially formed adults. They were inferior and at the lowest level of society. Jesus tells his disciples (and us) that we must become the lowest of the low. His reference to a child also echoes back to the child who was cleansed of a devil. We must become also like that boy. We must be delivered from the evil within us, and as he seemed to be dead and was brought back to life, so we must die and rise again with Christ.
Therefore Jesus is teaching us what it means to have faith. The disciples couldn’t believe. They couldn’t cast out the demon. Why? Because they did not have faith, and to understand what faith is we see what Jesus did and take the whole chapter as a lesson in what faith is. Faith is to be like a little child. It is to be like the boy who was cleansed. Faith means turning away from worldly ambitions of power (Who will be the greatest??) and becoming like that child, lying there with nothing until Jesus raises him up.