Imagine this scene; notice the hubbub and commotion of the crowds, a suffering child, a concerned father, a little group of faithful disciples, a number of their opponents. There seems to be much argument, dispute and exclamation but sadly little wisdom.

The irony of this narrative is not lost on the reader. The disciples were sent out in twos in Chapter 6 with authority over unclean spirits (verse7). In verse 30 of the same chapter, they gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. So successful were they in their mission that they “did not have time to eat” (verse31) and yet here we are three chapters away and there is a claim from a desperate father, a man who sought the healing of his son who had a spirit, that his disciples could not be of any help. But as much as we would like to examine the faith (or perhaps lack of) of the disciples the focus of this narrative is not the great crowds or the arguing scribes or the disciple’s faith but the father of the boy.

The father’s request to Jesus took the form of a tentative prayer. “If you are able to do anything have pity on us and help us”. The Gospels present Jesus giving us a rather sassy response, “If you are able!”. Of course, the Lord is able the question for the father, for the disciples, for the crowds and for us is, do we believe?

Many people live lives of quiet desperation. The desperate father in this passage should be a source of great encouragement to all of us who struggle with our faith. He called on Jesus with the shreds of what belief he possessed, and gave us that mighty prayer, “I believe; help my unbelief!” ‘I believe, help my unbelief’ is one of the best-loved human statements in the gospels. It expresses our own struggle of faith. How often have we been that father, struggling to believe?

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