Little Faith

A man came up to Jesus, knelt down before him, and said,
“Lord, have pity on my son, who is a lunatic and suffers severely;
often he falls into fire, and often into water.
I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.”
Jesus said in reply,
“O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you?
How long will I endure you?
Bring the boy here to me.”
Jesus rebuked him and the demon came out of him,
and from that hour the boy was cured.
Then the disciples approached Jesus in private and said,
“Why could we not drive it out?”
He said to them, “Because of your little faith.
Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you will say to this mountain,
‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.
Nothing will be impossible for you.”
(Matthew 17:14-20)

Scripture Study

17:14–18 A man approached with great reverence and knelt down before Christ. This is the first time the word knelt is used in Matthew. He addresses Jesus with honor as Lord, and humbly begins his request by saying have pity on my son, echoing the petitions for divine assistance in the Psalms.

The man calls his son a lunatic, a word that means “moonstruck,” or affected by the moon, reflecting an ancient belief that the moon’s phases cause seizures in some people. The son has symptoms similar to the condition we call epilepsy, as he often falls into fire and water. The narrative later informs us that the source of this particular boy’s self-destructive behavior is not merely a physical ailment but demonic possession (17:18). Jesus rebuked him and the demon immediately came out of him.

The efficacy of Jesus’ word stands in contrast to the disciples’ inability to cure the man’s son (17:16), even though they had been given authority to heal the sick and expel demons (10:8). Jesus responds to this situation forcefully: O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? He compares the present generation with the wayward Israelites in the desert whom Moses called a “perverse and crooked generation” (Deut 32:5 RSV) and “a perverse generation” whose children have “no faithfulness” (Deut 32:20 RSV)—the same critique leveled against the scribes and Pharisees in 12:38–39.

17:19–21 But against whom is Jesus’ critique directed? While some interpreters think it is the father and the people at large, the story’s emphasis on the disciples’ failure to expel the demon (17:16) and their “little faith” (17:20) seems to indicate it is Christ’s own followers who are the target of his lament. Jesus explains that they were unable to drive out the demon because of their little faith, which in Matthew refers to those given to anxiety because they do not trust God to provide for them.

Scripture Reflection

Friends, today in our Gospel we meet a boy driven mad by a demon and the disciples could not heal him. They asked Jesus why they had failed, and he said, “Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

In all circumstances, you have to pray with faith. Have you noticed how Jesus, time and again, says to people before working a miracle, “Do you believe I can do this?” Once, Matthew tells us, Jesus was unable to perform many miracles because he was met with so little faith among the people.

Lots of people today, especially in the healing ministry, seem able to reproduce what Jesus did, precisely because of the purity of their faith. Is part of our problem simply a lack of faith? We allow our skepticism to get the better of us; we’re just a little embarrassed by asking God for things, or we’re convinced that he is a distant power only vaguely connected to our lives. But God is far greater than that.

– Bishop Robert Barron

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.

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