When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.” “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” – Matthew 17:14-20
In this passage Jesus is again mesmerizing the crowd with a miracle. In this case it is a miraculous healing of a demon-possessed young man who apparently has lost some of his ability to navigate the world safely, “He often falls into the fire or into the water”. This must have been a rather painful and scarring thing for the young man to be controlled in this way.
The meeting between Jesus and the young man’s father begins in a rather strange way. The man brings his son to Jesus and in effect complains that Jesus’ disciples were unable to heal him. Jesus reacts in a way that resembles frustration. He says “You unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” It is not entirely clear if Jesus is talking to his disciples or the man. Based on the later dialogue it seems He was talking to His disciples, and indirectly, to all of us who sometimes struggle with faithful following.
Jesus rebukes the demon which is possessing the young man and drives it out of him. The disciples looking on were probably thinking something like “He makes it look so easy” They hold their tongues until they can get Jesus off by Himself and ask Him “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” Jesus explains that it was fundamentally a faith problem. They did not truly believe God could work through them to accomplish this miracle. They lacked faith. Interesting, it was not the size of their faith, but rather the form that it was taking that seems to be the problem.
Jesus explains that they failed because “you have so little faith.” Jesus goes on to say that even a “little” faith can do amazing things. He uses the example of a mustard seed, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
So it is not the size of their faith that was lacking, it was something about the purpose and place in their soul of that faith that seems to be the problem. Let’s dig into this mustard seed metaphor for a minute and see where it takes us.
The mustard seed is a small seed. Yet is grows into a very large and productive plant. How does it do this? All the knowledge and machinery required to form and produce a huge mustard plant resides in the small seed. All that is required to transform it from seed to bush is water, soil, sun, and time. Jesus is frustrated because the disciples have been given all the Living Water, Soil, Son, and time they need to flourish and grow into productive plants, but they are not doing so. Why not? It think it is because the disciples have their own ideas about what they are supposed to be growing into and it does not always line up with what God intends for them. They are not alone in this.
One thing I have learned as I have floated through the old testament is that we are all flawed followers and we will struggle to discern God’s plan for us. This is a feature not a flaw. God wants us to work through this tension so we invest our energy growing toward God and His plan rather than growing in the wrong direction or into a plant that does not bear fruit, or worse still, a plant that bears bad fruit.
Does this mean that if we pray for a miracle that does not occur we lack faith? I am not sure it is that simple. I think it may actually mean we were not tuned into God’s plan well enough to discern our purpose and place within it.
Prayer: God help us to discern Your plan for our lives so we can have faith that will move mountains and make miracles.