28 Pentecost. Tuesday, November 18, 2003. Matthew 17:14-21
This passage makes me nervous; two possible hermeneutical catastrophes come immediately to mind. If we believed deeply in the authority we have as baptized people to bring about the rule of God’s Kingdom, we might do very well to go about laying hands on the demoniacs in our lives and healing the broken. On the one hand, this could lead to a great crisis of faith were nothing spectacular to happen. On the other, if the lame started walking, the blind regained their sight and demoniacs were restored to their right minds, we’d have an even bigger disaster on our hands. To make matters worse, we have yet another confusing suggestion from Jesus, criticizing the disciples for having a faith too small, but insisting that the smallest bit of faith is indeed sufficient to accomplish the largest tasks.
When the disciples brought this epileptic/demoniac to Jesus, he had just come down the mountain after the event we call the Transfiguration – Jesus appeared to Peter, James and John, bathed in bright light and flanked by Moses and Elijah. This served as supernatural authentication of Jesus’ Messiahship. This was not an office of merely “religious” significance, either: anyone familiar with the Jewish scriptures knew that God’s anointed one would be sent to kick Roman backside and restore the Kingdom to Israel under the direct rule of God. Behold, the Messiah illumined by God’s power and glory. The mighty revolutionary and savior of his people then promptly trotted down the hill into the depths of human misery, to bring to bear the strong and loving rule of Yahweh into the lives of the last, least, and left out, who in this case was a seizing peasant boy.
The presence of a demon behind the boy’s ailment reminds us that the struggle was also a spiritual one: in this confrontation, the Messiah establishes God’s kingdom against Beelzebub, dramatically dethroning in that time and place the forces of darkness and death that gripped someone Yahweh loved very much. It is in light of that reality that Jesus commissioned his disciples to carry out the revolution: preach, heal, cast out demons. They couldn’t cast out this one, however. Jesus counted them with the unbelieving, perverse generation around them, because their faith was too small. He then tells them, even though their faith was small, the smallest faith would be sufficient to accomplish the biggest of tasks.
Oh, okay. Huh? Jesus is not the most clear and sensible of rabbis, is he? He leaves us with another riddle that requires us to think hard and pray fervently if we are to obey in any meaningful way.
Maybe the kind of faith possessed by the disciples was the real issue. Maybe they thought they could heal people for God because he had given them special powers for that purpose. Perhaps they hoped that they could accomplish these things through special formulas or magic words. Sound familiar? I would suggest that any degree of belief in one’s ability to accomplish God’s purposes in this way would always be a faith far too small for the God of Jesus Christ.
Jesus instead calls us to faith in a God so big, that even believing in His God just a little bit through the darkness of our own lives will accomplish the impossible. The nature of that God revealed through Jesus dares us to believe that Jesus is bringing about God’s kingdom in power, in ways we never would have expected. He calls all of his disciples to believe that it is God’s will and desire to establish a world that the meek will inherit, where the hungry will be fed, and the poor will become the richest of all; the lame would dance, the blind see, the deaf hear, and the dead be raised.
He has not called us to trust our own abilities, but to trust Him, His will and His power. Even now He continues to break into our dark and fallen world to heal us and set us free – every last one of us. He will not do this work because we lay hands on folks. He will heal because he loves and it is his determined desire to impart wholeness to those he loves. He chooses to do so through the touch of the Body of Christ. May we prove ourselves faithful to that mission, and willing to believe in it despite our deeply entrenched darkness and fear.
but bestows favor on the humble
4 months ago