Sometimes, We Just Lack the Faith

Matthew 17:14-23
14And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, 15said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures [is moonstruck] and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” 17And 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.” 18And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. 19Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20He 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. [21But this kind does not go out except by means of prayer and fasting.”]  22As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, 23and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed.

So while Jesus and the Three (Peter, James, and John) were up on the mountain top visiting with Moses and Elijah, the other nine disciples are left to their own devices and decide to practice their discipleship skills. They fail miserably. When Jesus rejoins the disciples a man comes up to Him and begs Jesus to heal his son. Apparently, the other disciples were unable to accomplish the task at hand. Jesus gives their failure a title; “Your faith is too small.” He doesn’t say their faith is totally gone but it is very small; too small to cast out a demon. Again He brings up the mustard little seed and compares faith to that seed. Faith is such a powerful tool that even just a bit will accomplish great things.

[Note: there is some discussion about verse 21 and whether or not it should appear in the text. If you are reading the passage in most English translations, it does not appear. I fall into the camp that says it should for numerous reasons – so there it is. Also in verse 15, most English translations use the word “epilepsy” where I have inserted “moonstruck” which is a cleaner translation when kept in context. Clearly, as the passage indicates in verse 18, the child was demon possessed, not epileptic.]

What we learn from this passage is that even at this point, the Disciples are struggling. Their faith is tenuous, but Jesus is still working with them. He has revealed that He is soon to die and to be resurrected. This is, naturally, distressing news but they seem to miss the part where He speaks of His resurrection. The learning curve is going to be sharp for these guys during the Passion and Resurrection.

We have to be careful not to be too hard on the Disciples. They were trying, I think. But they were confused by the actions of God. If we had been there, we may have been tempted to use the word “failures” on them. This is something I believe we can relate to for we are often confused by God’s actions as well. I believe the reason for that confusion lay with our human expectations and limited understanding. When things don’t go as we think they should we often wonder what God is up to in our lives. When tragic things happen, we look at God and struggle to make sense of His plans. This is when we have to rely upon trust alone. God has handled everything up this point and He will continue to do so without our help (or understanding sometimes.) And here is where faith comes into play. Faith believes when the circumstances shouldn’t work out. Faith believes even when what we are hearing seems too good to be true (“You shall have eternal life”). Faith understands that our failures are not a tragedy for God. He already knew they were coming and has made plans accordingly.

This same story is told in Mark 9:14-32. The father brings his demon possessed son to Jesus for healing. As Mark tells the story, Jesus and the man have a bit more conversation and the father utters these words. “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” We can relate to that. I believe Lord, but sometimes I doubt. Help me believe more! When you feel like a failure at work, as a parent, as a friend, or in your faith, remember that God’s definition of failure looks nothing like ours. In fact, I don’t think He cares about “failure” at all. He cares about you, personally. He sees your failures, most certainly. But He doesn’t focus on them. Instead, He’s there to lift us up and empower us to try again, or, even better, learn a new path all together. Contrary to the popular cliché, failure is always an possibility and another opportunity to learn and grow.