“And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:14-20 ESV
In this Gospel text Jesus heals a demon possessed boy. But the miracle of the healing is not the main point of the text. The main point is the unbelief of the disciples which prevented them from healing the boy. This story follows the story of Jesus’ transfiguration.
The amazing thing is that Peter, James and John saw Jesus’ transfiguration. They saw Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah. They heard the Father’s voice saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” And still they could not muster up the faith of a mustard seed between the three of them? Even more than that; there were nine disciples that failed to drive out the evil spirit that day. Jesus said the faith of a grain of mustard seed could move mountains. Yet nine disciples did not have enough faith even heal the boy. No wonder Jesus expresses such pain and deep disappointment! From His own disciples, Jesus had the right to expect something better. So the question is; how could these disciples who spent so much time with Jesus; seeing him do wonders and miracles; seeing Him cast out demons; seeing Him heal multitudes of people; seeing Him walk on water; how could they still lack faith, even the faith of a grain of a mustard seed? It seems almost impossible and yet it happens all around us every day.
One possible explanation is that they forgot that it was God who was doing the work, not themselves. It is possible that they felt pride and arrogance being selected and empowered by Jesus to do His work, instead of giving the glory to God. This is misplaced faith because it is based in ourselves instead of our source, God, who empowers us, lifts us and sustains us. Faith in self is not faith in God. Therefore when the disciples confronted the demon-possessed boy; the demon did not see the Son of God in them; it did not fear them and would not obey their words.
There is another possible explanation: When Jesus sent the disciples out among the Jews, seeking the lost sheep of Israel in chapter ten, maybe these disciples did not truly believe that they could do what Jesus sent them to do. This explanation is more likely because it falls in line with our human limitations. Jesus told them to go heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers and cast out demons. Who among us can do that? How many of us would believe it even if Jesus said we could? The disciples were human too and they may have questioned themselves and doubted that Jesus could do all of these miracles through them. It’s nothing more than what Jesus says to us, His latter day disciples, when we demonstrate our lack of faith by taking matters into our own hands, rather than relying God’s promise to take care of us. Lack of faith amounts to fear. And fear erodes faith if we let it; because if we truly believe every word and promise of God simply because He said it, than that mustard seed of faith blossoms into an immovable force, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our faith then becomes something that will sustain us until the end, if we continue to nourish it with Word and Sacrament. Faith is more than just something that would be nice to have; it is a necessity in this life. We cannot and will not live without it in this world or the next. We need faith as much as we need air, food and water. Just as air, food and water sustain the body, faith sustains the spirit. If we spent even half as much time nourishing our spirits with faith as we do our bodies with food, all of us would be able to move mountains. God bless you all! -Pastor Dupre