And they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood.  It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.”  Jesus said to him, “If you are able!—All things are given to the one who is grateful.” Immediately the father of the child cried out, 

“I am grateful; help my discontent!” 

 When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!”

(Mark 9:20-25, NRSV- Adapted)

            We in the Christian tradition are caught in a terrible conundrum between aspiring to be like the Apostle Paul who had “…learned to be content with whatever…” (Philippians 4:11, NRSV), and yet also recognizing the impulse of ultimate discontentment with this life, so well described by C.S. Lewis,

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.” (Mere Christianity)

Caught between the cessation of a desire for more so as not to complain, and yet having a deep inner cry of the spirit yearning for healing- how to escape this? Is it a matter of striking a balance, such as remembering to be grateful while jokingly complaining to let off steam? Is it a matter of being totally content in all things, and having no desire to change anything or for the creation to be healed? Or is it a matter of admitting defeat in never being satisfied with anything in life, strive for utopia, and living out one’s old years wondering what could have been? The first seems to be what many do, as most of their lives they complain about the little things then have a one day celebration for giving thanks. The second seems to be that of a person whose own peace of mind is more desirable than anyone else’s peace. The third finally appears to be a burden of a tremendous amount of anxiety, being the revolutionary that carries the weight of the world upon her shoulders, who can never be satisfied with less than the perfection of the world which they strive for, even out of a motive of justice.

            Why is the above passage from the Gospel of Mark adapted as it is, and how might it help us with our discontent with the sickness of the creation, and yet the need to be content in order to receive all things? Notice in this adaption the boys sickness appears as if it could be a suicidal mental disorder, a boy driven by immense amounts of anxiety possibly due to tax collection or the harvest or some related issue. The father cannot accept the situation as it is, he cannot be at ease with it and nor should he. To be at ease with the sickness and anxiety of the creation, would be a sign of callousness, not peace of mind. Naturally the father turns to the holy man of the town in a world of little resources, even the random ‘alternative’ healer would be called upon. The response of the holy man at first appears to be an arrogant reply equivalent to, ‘How dare you question if I can heal him, of course I can!’, but if this were the attitude in which the reply was made most certainly the local holy man would want to show the doubter his skills…but of course this is not what happens. The holy man points to the fact that it is not entirely up to his ability as to whether the boy would be healed or not,* but it was rather dependent in part on the man’s own posture toward the creation.** Jesus, the holy man, says, in reminiscence of the father in the story of the prodigal son (‘all that is mine is yours’- Luke 15:11-32, NRSV), tells the father, that ‘All things are given to the one who is grateful’.

          To parse out exactly what this enigmatic saying might mean, it would be helpful to look at the story of the prodigal son. In the story, the elder brother is upset that his younger brother has come home and got a party, whereas the elder has never left home and yet has never gotten a reception like his brother. It is to this discontent that his father tells him ‘All that is mine is yours’, but the problem was that the elder brother did not perceive the ‘all-that’ as ‘ALL-THAT’. He was not grateful, therefore he did not receive it as a gift. One never receives a gift as such unless one understands that it is a GIFT. Whatever one may receive, if one receives with a posture of entitlement, will never be a gift, only a due. What then Jesus, in our adaption of the story then is saying to the father is that the gracious gift of the health of his son would only be received as such if the father knew that he was not entitled to such treatment. If the father felt in anyway that Jesus owed him something, or was bound to do this for him, even then if Jesus did heal the boy, the father would not appreciate it, but merely rejoice that he had received his just due.

          In our contemporary cynical age we might read such a prompting as, ‘I’ll heal you’re boy, but you better be grateful for it!’ Is this, however, how we should read the prompting of Jesus about the father’s posture of gratitude? No, rather, Jesus’ concern is that the man in the midst of his and his son’s suffering, still rejoices with Job, “…the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21, NRSV). The desire to make sure someone is grateful and content can often be the only way to make sure someone does not devour their own soul with their discontent. Instead of an arrogant- ‘you better be grateful!- Jesus’ prompting is to make sure that the father was grateful and desired the healing of his son because he was grateful for the gift of his son, and not out of a soul-devouring posture of discontent and entitlement. The father’s reply to Jesus’ prompting is “I am grateful; help my discontent”.

         The father’s reply is what anyone, caught in the terrible conundrum described at the beginning, should pray. For the father acknowledges, that he is caught in the conundrum, and not in the cynical manner that we are often caught up in. The father does not jokingly complain about things to let off stream and give thanks to maintain credibility. Rather, the father recognizes that his discontent about the sickness and anxiety of the creation is present right alongside of his utter gratitude for what he has been given. After acknowledging the conundrum, he affirms his gratitude and asks for help with his discontent from Jesus. Despite his discontent in life he still proclaims that he is really and truly grateful for the gift of life, or as the Elder Zosima’s brother, Markel said, in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece The Brothers Karamazov, “…why, I myself want to be guilty before them, only I cannot explain it to you…Let me be culpable before all, and then all will forgive me, and that will be paradise.”  He owes the creation a debt of thanks in his loving gratitude toward the creation and his son as gifts from the one who knows how to give good things. But what of the second-half of the father’s cry, ‘help my discontent’? Is he asking for a peace of mind about the world’s cares so that he may be content with what is? Is he asking that his desire for better may be quenched so that he will no longer complain about the injustices of this creation?

         The important question to ask then, is on whose behalf is the father asking for healing and what drives the desire for something better? He is asking on the behalf of his son, and his drive is the gratitude and love that he already has for the gift of his son. The striving for a better creation should come from the gratitude and love for the way that the creation is already received by us. If the gift of the creation is rejected, we will wander as discontented gruntled souls looking for a better home then the one we inhabit, or if the gift of creation is not received as a gift we will continue to receive the joys of life as entitlements and ‘rights’ only to never be content. The father in our story does not wish that he had never been born, as Job later comes to cry in his story (Job 3, NRSV), nor does he feel that it is Jesus’ duty to heal his son, that his fair share has not been given.  Rather the father knows that he is grateful for the creation as a gift that has been given to him, and as he stares into the eyes of the one who first gave him his son he cries for the healing of the creation that is sick out of gratitude and love. He is not disgruntled or filled with complaint about his lot in life, rather he is grateful- ‘I am grateful!’ Furthermore than this, his ‘discontent’ is driven, not by a sense of lack or a sense of  unfairness on his own part, but rather by a sense of  love on behalf of the gift he has been given.

       The cry to ‘help’ our discontent is not a cry for us to be rid of it, it is right that we are caught in this conundrum.  The cry to ‘help’ our discontent is to say,

Lord, Help My Discontent this day

I am grateful and content in all things

 The creation owes me nothing,

I owe everything to everyone

When I reject a gift or disparage the day I was given it

Remind me that

Their is no satisfaction in other than you have given of yourself

When I receive a gift as a due and sense a lack

Remind me that

‘All things are given to the one who is grateful’

When I see that a gift is sick and anxiety ridden

Remind me that

It was given in love, and so shall it be restored

Amen.

_________________________________________

* In terms of the original story, the observations thus far offered about the Holy man, may be equally applicable, just framed in the context of ‘belief/unbelief’, instead of ‘gratefulness/discontent’ 

** In the original story its about the man’s level of belief. In this adaption it is about how he regards what he has already been given.

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