The Gospel text for this Sunday [Mark 9:14-29] deals with Jesus and another unclean spirit. Last Sunday an optional part of the text was the healing of the Gentile woman’s daughter; she also had an ‘unclean spirit’. There is talk of demons later in this gospel account, but the ‘unclean spirit’ will not be mentioned again.
It is important to note that this is a difficult spirit to cast out, even though the title of ‘unclean spirit’ does not seem too troublesome (and the father is even more positive by only calling it a ‘spirit that makes him mute’). The disciples previously had some success in casting out demons (see Matthew 6:13), but not this one.
The disciples even ask Jesus why they could not cast it out. In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus says it is because they had little faith (Matthew 17:20). In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus says that these only come out by prayer (Mark 9:29). I think that both are interesting responses; and both are interconnected.
There are a lot of interesting responses at the end of many sections in this gospel account; and they are usually interconnected as well. The most famous is probably the very end of the account, where the women leave the tomb and do not say anything to anyone. But we are to connect that ending with the endings of the other accounts; it is in those accounts that this important story cannot help but spread. [And if the Gospel according to Mark is to be the last of the four accounts, then it was to have its longer ending—Mark 16:9-20.]
Christians can feel as though they HAVE TO pray. They can also feel as though they GET TO pray. At the heart of that is faith in a gracious God.
Those Christians can also feel as though God can ‘move mountains’ (see Matthew 17:20)—but not to ‘show off’ of course. If the mountains of the earth need moving to show God’s love, he will certainly move them (see Matthew 27:51).
Are there different levels of unclean spirits? At least there were at the time when Jesus was on earth. They may have all learned their lessons shortly after that, that there is no need to leave unless the Son of God is involved—and invoked.
Were the disciples disappointed that they had not thought of praying? The text does not say. Either way, the disciples continue to fade into the background—along with the unclean spirits. And Jesus continues to come to the foreground. And he brings his Spirit (see Mark 13:11).