The fate of our faith – Saturday, 18th Week in ordinary time – Matthew 17:14-20
Beware when gentle Jesus meek and mild gets all riled up. There is frustration in the words of Jesus and he does not hold back. We are familiar with the anger of Jesus. We know, how in the temple, he made a whip and kicked tables over. In this case, his words are enough to make you want to make run for cover and hide. The twelve get a public dressing down with words that would make any disciple squirm. “ You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you?” (17:17)
Jesus has more than equipped the twelve with every skill they would need for ministry. He has lectured them long and hard on the ethics of Christian living in chapters five through seven, in what has come to be called the Sermon on the Mount. He has performed ten miracles in chapters eight and nine and shown them that he is not only master of the word(teacher) but also master of the deed(healer). In chapter ten he gave his apostles the authority to preach and perform the very miracles he did. In chapters eleven and twelve, he taught them not to be intimidated by rejection. In chapter thirteen he instructed them on the kingdom of Heaven and over chapters fourteen to sixteen he has prepared them for his impending rejection, death and suffering. Yet, they who were given the power to raise the dead, now can not even exorcise an epileptic boy who is possesed by a demon and Jesus was more than just frustrated. Our Lord is so angry that he calls these future saints (not Judas) faithless, perverse and tells them in no uncertain terms that he was ‘fed up with them.’
Having been reprimanded publicaly, the apostles come to Jesus privately. (verse 19) While one might feel compelled to frown upon the failures of the apostles, I am touched by their humility. They come to him privately, embarassed that they have failed the Lord. They come seeking understanding for their failing. This is how we too should approach the Lord in our failings.
The very same Jesus who was all rilled up, sets his annoyance aside to teach once more. Patience is a virtue and Our Lord is once again patient with his errant apostles. But now he chooses to teach them. ‘Why could you not cast the demon out? It is because of your little faith,’ retorts Jesus. This statement should have stung the apostles because in the past Our Lord has praised the ‘great faith’ of a Syro-Phonecian woman and the ‘great faith’ of the centurion who said “I am not worthy to have you under my roof but say but the word.”
Faith is not a given! faith needs daily nurturing. The amazing gifts of healing that Jesus had given his twelve have failed them because they did not nurture the gift of faith from which flows the ability to perform these great miracles. Perhaps they were overwhelmed with work pressure, perhaps too busy to pray or even worse did not make their prayer life a priority. Clearly they were out of touch and that became evident when the father of the boy said, “I brought him to your disciples but they could not cure him.”
At the heart of it all is not the amount of faith that we have but the kind of faith that we ought to have. Jesus sets the bar very high when he speaks of faith that can move mountains. Looking at this text carefully, Jesus seems to say that we do not even have faith that matches the size of a mustard seed, for that would be enough, were we in need of moving a mountain.
I can not write this reflection without admitting to my own lack of faith. Sadly, as I write this text I feel compelled to tell myself that perhaps when Jesus told us we can move a mountain with faith the size of a mustard seed, he meant it as a metaphor. But If I do that, If I console myself with my own interpretations of scripture, then I make Christ a liar and that would be blasphemy. So I must look at my faith meter in prayer and be confronted by the Lord himself before I share his truth with the world.
Because the truth of God seems like an impossibility, it does not make the truth of God a lie.