Matthew 17:14-20

THE ESSENTIAL FAITH

Matt. 17:14-20

When they came to the crowd, a man came to him and fell at his feet and said, “Sir, have pity on my son, for he is an epileptic, and he suffers severely; for often he falls into the fire, and often into the water; and I brought him to your disciples, and they were not able to cure him.” Jesus answered, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to me!” And Jesus spoke sternly to him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured from that hour. Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and said, “Why were we not able to cast out the demon?” Jesus said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith. This is the truth I tell you–if you have your faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, `Be removed from here,’ and it will remove. So nothing will be impossible to you.”

No sooner had Jesus come down from the heavenly glory than he was confronted with an earthly problem and a practical demand. A man had brought his epileptic boy to the disciples in the absence of Jesus. Matthew describes the boy by the verb seleniazesthai (GSN4583), which literally means to be moonstruck. As was inevitable in that age, the father attributed the boy’s condition to the malign influence of evil spirits. So serious was his condition that he was a danger to himself and to everyone else. We can almost hear the sigh of relief as Jesus appeared, and at once he took a grip of a situation which had got completely out of hand. With one strong, stem word he bade the demon be gone and the boy was cured. This story is full of significant things.

(i) We cannot but be moved by the faith of the boy’s father. Even though the disciples had been given power to cast out devils (Matt. 10:1), here was a case in which they had signally and publicly faded. And yet in spite of the failure of the disciples, the father never doubted the power of Jesus. It is as if he said: “Only let me get at Jesus himself, and my problems will be solved and my need will be met.”

There is something very poignant about that; and there is something which is very universal and very modern. There are many who feel that the Church, the professed disciples of Jesus in their own day and generation, has failed and is powerless to deal with the ills of the human situation; and yet at the back of their minds there is the feeling: “If we could only get beyond his human followers, if we could only get behind the facade of ecclesiasticism and the failure of the Church, if we could only get at Jesus himself, we would receive the things we need.” It is at once our condemnation and our challenge that, even yet, though men have lost their faith in the Church, they have never lost a wistful faith in Jesus Christ.

(ii) We see here the constant demands made upon Jesus. Straight from the glory of the mountain top, he was met by human suffering. Straight from hearing the voice of God, he came to hear–the clamant demand of human need. The most Christ-like person in the world is the man who never finds his fellow-man a nuisance. It is easy to feel Christian in the moment of prayer and meditation; it is easy to feel close to God when the world is shut out. But that is not religion–that is escapism. Real religion is to rise from our knees before God to meet men and the problems of the human situation. Real religion is to draw strength from God in order to give it to others. Real religion involves both meeting God in the secret place and men in the market place. Real religion means taking our own needs to God, not that we may have peace and quiet and undisturbed comfort, but that we may be enabled graciously, effectively and powerfully to meet the needs of others.
The wings of the dove are not for the Christian who would follow his Master in going about doing good.

(iii) We see here the grief of Jesus. It is not that Jesus says that he wants to be quit of his disciples. It is that he says, “How long must I be with you before you will understand?” There is nothing more Christlike than patience. When we are like to lose our patience at the follies and the foolishness of men, let us call to mind God’s infinite patience with the wanderings and the disloyalties and the unteachability of our own souls.

(iv) We see here the central need of faith, without which nothing can happen. When Jesus spoke about removing mountains he was using a phrase which the Jews knew well. A great teacher, who could really expound and interpret scripture and who could explain and resolve difficulties, was regularly known as an uprooter, or even a pulverizer, of mountains. To tear up, to uproot, to pulverize mountains were all regular phrases for removing difficulties. Jesus never meant this to be taken physically and literally. After all, the ordinary man seldom finds any necessity to remove a physical mountain. What he meant was: “If you have faith enough, all difficulties can be solved, and even the hardest task can be accomplished.” Faith in God is the instrument which enables men to remove the hills of difficulty which block their path.

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW (Chapters 11-28)

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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