I love that the gospels show Jesus’s frustration with his disciples. Not because I’m looking to justify my own frustrations (even though it helps to know that they aren’t necessarily “sin”), but because it is yet another instance of Jesus’s humanity.
In Matthew 17:14-21, Jesus is met by a crowd when a man kneels before him and asks to have his son healed of epilepsy. The man tells Jesus that he’d brought his son to the disciples to be healed (which, by the way, says something about the reputation of the disciples) but they were not able to heal him.
Then something rather peculiar happens. Jesus let’s the disciples have it, right there in front of this man and the crowd. At least that’s the way I see it. What Jesus says makes me laugh a bit when I read it because, again, it sounds so human. “Oh faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to bear with you? [sigh] Bring him here to me.”
Okay, okay, so I inserted the “[sigh],” but it seems like it fits. What is it that has Jesus so exasperated?
After they bring the boy to Jesus, he casts out the demon in him quickly. The text doesn’t make much of a fuss about it; probably because the miracle itself is clearly not the point of this little story. It’s the faith of the disciples that take center stage.
“Little Faith, Really?”
Let’s take a step back for a second. We know that the disciples have been healing from passages before this one. In Matthew 10, Jesus gives his disciples the charge to go into the cities to heal, resurrect, cleanse and exorcise. As we mentioned before, for the man to have even presented his son to the disciples at all is an indication of their reputation.
So then, if the disciples have already done so many great works — and by great, I mean resurrect the dead, exorcise demons and heal leprosy, great — what is the issue with this particular boy and his son? And more, why is Jesus so upset at their inability take care of this boy’s problem?
The disciples were puzzled by it as well. Once Jesus calms down and they are alone with him, the disciples ask Jesus what exactly was the issue (v. 19). Jesus points to the littleness of their faith — a curious answer given how confident we’d expect them to feel after having done so many great works in the past.
More, the fact that the disciples are wondering what prevented them from casting out this demon, again, tells us a bit about what they expected of themselves. I get the feeling the disciples were as befuddled by their inability to perform this miracle as the father making the plea. It seems they expected to be able to cast out the demon, which means they did have at least some faith.
That’s what makes Jesus’s answer so interesting to me. It seems to me that the disciples did have “mustard seed” faith, at least. What might he mean?
I’m reminded of the passage where Peter steps out of the boat onto the water, and walks a few steps before sinking. Jesus steps in there, too, and offers a similar, if not much softer, rebuke to Peter. “Oh you of little faith.” Jesus says. “Why did you doubt?”
So similar are these two scenarios. In one minute great and miraculous things are happening, and in another, paralysis and sinking at the gust of the wind.
You Are Empowered
Like any good leader, Jesus is not interested in doing everything. We begin to see in these few verses the ferocity with which Jesus empowered his disciples. He’d given them power and authority and he expected they would use it.
The lesson here is simple. God has already empowered you to do what he’s called you to do. He’s asked you to step out of the boat, into some sort of storm, or he’s equipped you and sent you on mission to serve a particular set of people with your skills and talents.
So why do you doubt? Why are you afraid?
You know, sometimes it takes actually getting out on the water to realize just how little faith we really have. Sometimes it takes trying to do the very thing God asks to realize how quickly we drop our faith and pick up our doubts. A quick flick of the wind, any attempt that seems to fail and suddenly we forget who we are and what God’s empowered us to do.
Sometimes our faith is just not as strong as think.
Jesus is saying in this passage that he’s equipped and empowered you to do great things — to move mountains and to perform feats in you that go beyond what you can imagine. If you know your calling, forge ahead into obedience with no fear. You don’t have to doubt. You don’t have to be afraid. You just need to hear what God wants for you, and to follow his Spirit’s lead.
If you are a child of God, you are empowered. It’s time to move some mountains.
What prevents you from doing the thing God has placed before you?
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