The Faithless Generation

A man came up to Jesus, knelt down before him, and said, “Lord, have pity on my son, who is a lunatic and suffers severely; often he falls into fire, and often into water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.”
Jesus said in reply, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you?
Bring the boy here to me.”
Jesus rebuked him and the demon came out of him, and from that hour the boy was cured.
Then the disciples approached Jesus in private and said, “Why could we not drive it out?”
He said to them, “Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt 17:14-20)

This gospel passage caught me off guard.  I found myself wondering, “Who is this grumpy and snippy Jesus?”  This poor guy wanted his son healed and Jesus seemed like someone spit in His wine.  However, after I spent some more time with it, I realized this passage might be deeper than I first suspected.  It might be easier to reconcile the “I’ll be with you always” side of Jesus with this “Get away from me” side of Jesus then I first anticipated.  There are two phrases from Jesus that I want to consider as we look this passage.  Matthew records Jesus telling the disciples that they have little faith and he spoke these words, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you?  How long will I endure you?”

As a 21st century reader, I read this passage and, without intending to, just wrote this healing off as the curing of epilepsy and all the demon talk was the figurative language of a person who didn’t understand complex mental illness.  A miraculous healing of epilepsy seemed far enough, but bringing in spiritual warfare seemed like too much when I can easily offer a more “enlightened” and “rational” explanation.  But what if this lack of faith is not unique to my 21st century perspective?  What if this is the same lack of faith for which Jesus admonished the Apostles?  What if they were praying for a miraculous cure to a natural ailment instead of praying for an exorcism?  I suggest this because it seems arrogant to claim a monopoly on difficulty recognizing the work of the demonic because “we are so much more advanced.”

Moving from the fact that the demonic is truly at work in this passage, I want to offer another take on Jesus’ sharp words.  What if Jesus’ initial ‘snippiness’ wasn’t directed at anyone visibly present?  This wouldn’t be the first time that Jesus spoke to a demon.  What if this stern, no nonsense Jesus was speaking to that faithless and perverse fallen angel that he was about to cast out of the boy?  That generation before the creation of the material universe that lacks reliance on the Lord and perverts that which He has created.  Also, that generation of perverse spirits that God incarnate was enduring in a whole new way.  This interpretive twist suddenly changes Jesus from being callous to being more like a protective older brother.  He is righteously angry that this demon went after a child or better yet, a younger brother.

Consequently, this passage becomes a conviction for me to not write off the spiritual so quickly because “I’m a modern man.”  It also makes me realize the intensity with which I should care for my younger brothers and sisters in Christ.  I should be righteously angry when someone corrupts them, harms them, or drives them from Jesus.  This is not a picture of Jesus annoyed that the Apostles wasted His time, but the warrior messiah casting out His enemy who has dared to threaten one so dear to His heart.

Lord, give us the grace to love our younger family members with the same intensity that you do and cultivate in us righteous indignation when the little ones that You love so deeply are endangered.

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