Reading the Word
Matthew 17:14–20 (ESV)
14 And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, 15 said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” 17 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.” 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 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.”
Parallel Texts: Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-43
Understanding and Applying the Word
Today, we read of Jesus healing a demon-possessed boy. The boy’s father went to Jesus because his son’s symptoms were very violent and because Jesus’ disciples were unable to drive out the demon.
The accounts written in Matthew and in Mark seem to give different reasons for why the disciples were not able to effectively handle the demon. In Matthew, Jesus says the problem was the disciples had “little faith” and that if they had the faith of a mustard seed they would be able to move mountains. In Mark, Jesus tells the disciples that the only way to drive out a demon of this nature is through prayer. So, which is it? Why are there seemingly different reasons given by Jesus?
At first glance, Matthew and Mark may seem to be at odds, but when we better understand them both, we see that they are, in fact, in agreement. In Matthew, we must understand that Jesus is not speaking about the disciples ability to muster a certain quantity of faith. Consider the words from David Turner in the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary: Matthew and Mark:
The issue is not the intensity or amount of faith but the degree to which that faith perceives its object. The power of faith is in the person in whom it is placed. Jesus’ disciples were unable to heal the epileptic boy because they had taken their eyes off of Jesus and looked at the obstacles, just as Peter did during the storm when he began to sink (14:31). Faith is not believing in faith but in the heavenly Father.
When we consider this understanding with Jesus’ comment on prayer in Mark 9:29, we see how the two accounts compliment each other. The disciples’ faith had failed because their eyes were not on Jesus and this is evidenced by their lack of prayer and trust in God.
Prayer tells us a great deal about our faith. Are we trusting in ourselves and our own strength and abilities or are we trusting in God and his plans and purposes? How does your prayer life reflect where your faith truly lies?
**If you enjoy reading Shaped by the Word, please consider sharing this post on social media. Doing so helps us reach a larger audience. Thanks for reading!