Growing in Faith

Last Updated on March 4, 2023 by GMC

18th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday (Year II)

Matthew 17:14-20

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.”

“Moonstruck.” The Greek word selēniazetai summoned a whole world of culture and thought. Selēnē (moon) in Greek and luna in Latin gave rise to “lunatic”—one who is afflicted or “struck” by the phases of the moon. Taking into account the description of the boy’s symptoms in the Synoptic Gospels, several translations render the original Greek as, “he is an epileptic” or “he has seizures.” 

It is impossible to make a precise diagnosis from the the bare text. However, we can sympathize with the distressed father who is at the end of his rope. Fear and despair gripped him because of his beloved son’s unpredictable attacks by a “mute spirit” (Mark 9:17). The ancients believed that the “moonstruck” disease was a divine punishment. The boy’s family may have suffered alienation from neighbors, relatives and friends. Doctors could not help him, so he turned to Jesus’ disciples. 

Mark’s Gospel focuses on the feeble faith of the father, who choked, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (9:24) Matthew zeroes in on the disciples.

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.”

According to Matthew, the Twelve had been given “authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity” (10:1). These were not everyday skills, but spiritual charisms requiring discernment, wisdom and faith. They probably didn’t have workshops and training sessions; they simply followed in the footsteps of their master. This episode showed that the gap between master and disciple was still wide. Jesus’ lament echoed that of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:5).

Jesus rebuked him and the demon came out of him, and from that hour the boy was cured. 

in Mark, a crowd came running to the scene when Jesus commanded the spirit to leave the boy. Cries and convulsions followed, and then the child became still “like a corpse.” Jesus picked him up by the hand, to the amazement of all. What relief and happiness for the father and son! Life would never be the same again.

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.”

The kingdom of heaven was also compared to a mustard seed—the great and the small, the infinite and the finite, heaven and earth packed into a pellet. In some manuscripts of Matthew, Jesus adds, “But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting,” which concludes the account in Mark. Faith, prayer and fasting detach us from ego and let the Holy Spirit transform us and our wounded world. 

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