Popular depictions of Jesus in our day frequently present Him as having something of a “live and let live” attitude that means He never judges anyone but rather embraces everyone without demanding that they turn from their sin. Yet, the Gospels paint a far different picture of our Lord. Yes, Christ will receive any sinner who comes to Him, no matter how grievous his or her transgressions may be. But Jesus does not permit people to remain in their sin. Instead, He calls men and women to a life of repentance (Mark 1:14–15), and He certainly has harsh words for those who do not seek Him with a repentant faith.
Today’s passage shows our Savior’s willingness to judge others for their faithlessness. Mark describes an episode that happened once Jesus, Peter, James, and John rejoined the disciples who had not seen the transfigured glory of Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration (9:14–15). Upon meeting up with the other nine disciples, Jesus soon became engulfed in a controversy, for the scribes were arguing with His followers, presumably regarding something that had been going on while He was up on the mountain. Mark does not reveal the exact nature of the argument, but it seems to have had something to do with a father’s urgent need of help for his son.
As Mark tells us, this father had brought his son to the nine disciples who remained behind while Jesus ascended the mountain. They had been unable to help the son, who was suffering under the possession of an evil spirit (vv. 16–18). The young man was in a desperate state indeed—being mute, experiencing convulsions, and foaming at the mouth. Matthew’s parallel account describes the son as suffering from demonically induced epilepsy (Matt. 17:14–18), and Mark 9:21 says the demonic possession had begun during the young man’s childhood. The danger was great, for the demon also frequently tried to kill him with fire and water (v. 22).
Upon meeting the young man’s father and seeing His disciples’ inability to do anything for the man’s possessed son, Jesus called attention to the faithlessness of the generation in which He ministered (v. 19). Scholars are divided over whether Jesus meant to include His disciples in His comments, though the disciples’ inability to help the man suggests their faith was weak and that they had yet to grasp and believe fully Christ’s teaching. Jesus’ strong words, then, would have served to awaken them to their unbelief.