Jesus Heals a Boy
(Matthew 17.14-20; Luke 9.37-43a)
14When Jesus and his three disciples came back down, they saw a large crowd around the other disciples. The teachers of the Law of Moses were arguing with them.
15The crowd was really surprised to see Jesus, and everyone hurried over to greet him.
16Jesus asked, “What are you arguing about?”
17Someone from the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought my son to you. A demon keeps him from talking. 18Whenever the demon attacks my son, it throws him to the ground and makes him foam at the mouth and grit his teeth in pain. Then he becomes stiff. I asked your disciples to force out the demon, but they couldn't do it.”
19Jesus said, “You people don't have any faith! How much longer must I be with you? Why do I have to put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
20They brought the boy, and as soon as the demon saw Jesus, it made the boy shake all over. He fell down and began rolling on the ground and foaming at the mouth.
21Jesus asked the boy's father, “How long has he been like this?”
The man answered, “Ever since he was a child. 22The demon has often tried to kill him by throwing him into a fire or into water. Please have pity and help us if you can!”
23Jesus replied, “Why do you say ‘if you can’? Anything is possible for someone who has faith!”
24At once the boy's father shouted, “I do have faith! Please help me to have even more.”
25When Jesus saw that a crowd was gathering fast, he spoke sternly to the evil spirit that had kept the boy from speaking or hearing. He said, “I order you to come out of the boy! Don't ever bother him again.”
26The spirit screamed and made the boy shake all over. Then it went out of him. The boy looked dead, and almost everyone said he was. 27But Jesus took hold of his hand and helped him stand up.
28After Jesus and the disciples had gone back home and were alone, they asked him, “Why couldn't we force out that demon?”
29Jesus answered, “Only prayer can force out this kind of demon.”
Imagine being one of the disciples in this story. A desperate father pleads with you to free his son from the demon who is destroying his life. You remember Jesus gave you the authority to do exactly this (Mark 6:7). “I’ll do my best,” you say, as you copy what you’ve seen Jesus do. But the evil spirit stays put. You feel terrible. What went wrong?
Jesus’ response is clear: “You people don’t have any faith! Anything is possible for someone who has faith!” It’s easy to hear these words and think the faith Jesus is talking about is the kind of faith an Olympic athlete might have: the power to imagine winning, to picture yourself crossing the finish line, to say with unwavering certainty, “I can do this!” Many of us think Jesus is expecting us to muster up this kind of confidence.
But Jesus’ final words in this story say something different: “Only prayer can force out that kind of demon.” The kind of faith Jesus is talking about is not about the power of positive thinking. It’s a simple faith in the power of God. It’s the understanding that we are children of God, transformed and renewed by the Holy Spirit, with access to the same power that Jesus has. It’s not our power. We need to humbly come to the Father, and ask him to release his power, knowing that we’re totally dependent on Him.
There’s a challenge here, to us. To depend more fully on God, while at the same time being bold enough to ask for miracles. There’s also an encouragement. When our faith wavers, we can cry out to Jesus just as the boy’s father did: “I do have faith. Help me to have even more!”
You are a wonder-working, merciful God. My own prayers can be sporadic and small. Teach me to come to you in humility and in boldness, so that I can participate in your miracles here on earth – for your glory and Kingdom. In the name of Jesus, Amen.