When they met the people, a man approached Jesus, knelt before him and said, “Sir, have pity on my son who is an epileptic and is in a wretched state. He has often fallen into the fire and at other times into the water. I brought him to your disciples but they could not heal him.”
Jesus replied, “O you people, faithless and misled! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus commanded the evil spirit to leave the boy, and the boy was immediately healed.
Later, the disciples approached Jesus and asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive out the spirit?” Jesus said to them, “Because you have little faith. I say to you: if only you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could tell that mountain to move from here to there, and the mountain would obey. Nothing would be impossible for you.”
There is something baffling about today’s gospel reading. It presents the disciples as unable to perform an exorcism. Now this is really odd because earlier in Matthew’s gospel we are told that the disciples were sent on a mission with the power, among other things, to “drive out demons” (Mt 10:8). And we may safely presume that they were able to do this because Luke, in his gospel, reports the reaction of another group of disciples (the seventy-two, cf. Lk 10:1-12, 17-20) who, upon their return from a similar mission, report with a touch of awe: “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name” (Lk 10:17). And yet, now the disciples are powerless to exorcise the epileptic boy. Why?
No one can tell for sure. But a safe guess would be that the disciples eventually came to forget what was the source of their exorcising power—God, not themselves. Their trust had shifted from God to themselves. A quite common occupational hazard for enterprising Christians of all times… And Jesus very aptly sets the record straight: an ounce of real trust in God is infinitely more powerful than mere self-confidence.
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