Mt 17 Jesus Cures a Boy with a Demon
Very Rev.Fr.Joychen Paranajattu
There was one person who had stronger and deeper faith in Jesus than the disciples themselves; and that was the father of the boy with the epilepsy. The man had a strong faith in Jesus and believed that even Jesus’ disciples could heal the boy. They had earlier received the power to heal the sick and to cast out demons as seen in Mt 10:8. The father of the boy probably could not reach Jesus as there was a large crowd; and so, he took the boy first to the disciples. However, they could not heal the boy. The man’s faith is greater than many close followers of Jesus. Jesus scolds the disciples for their lack of faith even though they were with Jesus for so long and still could not heal the boy. Jesus tells them that he will not be with them for long. The believers have to learn to place their trust in Jesus. It is not enough to walk with Jesus, dine with Jesus, listen to his talks, and see him performing many miracles; but rather, know Jesus and trust him.
The term used is oligopistoi, which means, “you of little faith”. It refers to the disciples who even after having believed in Jesus, there is no depth in their faith. This term occurs a few times in the Gospel of Matthew, viz.,in 6:30, 8:26, 14:31, 16:8 and 17:20; cf. Luke 12:28). This sense of oligopistos emerges in two Galilean storm scenes:in Matthew 8:26 (parallel in Mark 4:40). Jesus has fallen asleep in the boat and a vicious storm terrifies the disciples. They wake up Jesus, who asks them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith(oligopistoi)?”He rebukes the winds and the sea and there was a dead calm.The disciples were amazed to see the winds and the sea obey Jesus.
In Matthew 14:31, Jesus walks across the stormy waters, to meet the disciples, but they do not immediately recognize him. Peter wanted to walk to him on the stormy water. Following Jesus’ command, Peter walks, but loses his confidence in Jesus and begins to sink. He is frightened and cries out for help and Jesus saves him, and asks him: “You of Little faith (oligopiste), why did you doubt?” When they get into the boat, all the disciples worship Jesus, affirming “Truly you are the Son of God!” The divinity of Jesus is emphasised in these narratives to have deeper faith in him.
However, there is crisis of faith among the disciples. Jesus points out that they are of “little faith”. The verb “doubt or hesitate” that Matthew uses in the question (14:31) suggests what lies behind this failure of faith.They have responded to Jesus’ call to follow him, heard his teaching and observed some of his miracles. So, they have expressed some faith. Yet at this point of crisis, facing imminent death, their confidence in Jesus fails. But Jesus acts to restore it and instil new faith. One should overcome one’s doubt to have deeper faith in Jesus. One should not hesitate to go to Jesus who has authority over even the winds and the sea, and the demons.
In Matthew 16:8, Jesus is warning his disciples about the unbelief exhibited by the Pharisees and Sadducees. However, because he uses the metaphor of leaven and they have just witnessed the feeding of four thousand men, they debate whether Jesus is referring to their failure to bring bread with them. Jesus rebukes them, and calls them, “you of little faith” (oligopistoi). However, for Jesus their problem is a lack of understanding, which in turn reflects a lack of faith. Mark, in the parallel passage (8:17), attributes their lack of understanding to “hearts in a hardened condition”.
His rebuke to his disciples is for not having the faith at least the size of a mustard seed. He uses the word oligopistia, “of little faith” to mark the poor condition of the discipleswho have followed him and will continue to do so, even though they do not understand everything and often fail to exhibit the confidence and trust in Jesus that he deserves and desires.If they could not boast of their faith, are we worthy to boast of our faith? Faith is a phenomenon that moves the heart as a result of a personal encounter with the divine. This is something which cannot be forced either on to anyone.It calls for total trust in God the Almighty. Total trust comes as a result of true knowledge of God.
St. Paul writes to the Philippians that he “regards everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus”. He has suffered for the sake of Christ and lost everything for Christ and regards them as rubbish in order to gain Christ and be found in him. His righteousness comes from his faith in Jesus. All that he wants to know is Christ and the power of his Resurrection. As a result of his knowledge, he longs to have a share in the sufferings of Christ and wants to die like Christ to attain Resurrection from the dead. He has truly known Christ and wants to attain salvation offered by Christ through his sufferings and death. This knowledge is gained through total emptying of oneself. Paul was willing to empty himself for the sake of Christ. Let us know Christ and the power of his Resurrection to have deeper faith in Christ to glorify him in our life. Amen!