When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him.  “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water.  I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”  “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.”  Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment.  Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”  He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
I really hope that we don’t have any more lockdowns – for many, many reasons. One reason is because my family found home learning, how can I put this… challenging! My children generally do well at school, but it was really tough trying to support them through their learning at home. I lost track of the number of times I said to them, “just believe in yourself, have faith in your own ability, you can do it!” They seem to accept this from their teachers, but not from me!
In today’s reading, Jesus is teaching his disciples about faith. A man had taken his son to Jesus’ disciples. His son suffered from seizures, and had hoped that Jesus’ disciples would heal him. They failed to do so, however. The man’s son was subsequently healed by Jesus, and Jesus used this situation as a lesson in faith for the disciples.
Interestingly, in other healings, we see people made better because of their faith in Jesus. The man in this story clearly has faith in Jesus’ disciples – but his son wasn’t healed. Jesus’ disciples want to know why not.
Jesus tells them that they were unable to heal the son because they have so little faith; it wasn’t the man’s faith that was left wanting, but the faith of the disciples.
The power to heal came not from the disciples themselves, but from God. It was God who would heal, not the disciples. It was crucial, therefore, that they had faith in God’s ability to heal; if they lacked faith, then the healing wouldn’t take place.
What’s more, they didn’t need a huge amount of faith. Jesus explains that, “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move.”
I find this reassuring but also challenging.
I find it reassuring because sometimes my level of faith feels small. Sometimes I wonder if my faith is really genuine, because I am more aware of my lack of great faith rather than my possession of a small faith. And yet, even with faith as small as a mustard seed, great things can still be accomplished for the glory of God and his his kingdom.
I find it challenging, because if I could metaphorically move mountains with even a tiny amount of faith, what might be possible if I had more faith! How much difference could I make to God’s kingdom, to the world, if only I had a little more faith! How much more could God work through me if I trusted more in him?
Jesus criticised the disciples for their lack of faith. How can we be sure that we don’t also suffer from lack of faith?
Paul writes in his letter to the Romans that “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:17). If we want to build our faith, then, we should endeavour to immerse ourselves in the Word of God, found in the Bible.
It could be said that faith leads to greater faith. Our faith leads us to the Bible, to the Word of God, and to prayer. The Word and prayer in turn strengthen our faith, which in turn leads us deeper into the Word and prayer. The Word and prayer serves to strengthen our faith further.
In contrast, lack of faith leads to a greater lack of faith. We doubt our faith so neglect our Bible study and avoid prayer. Since we’re not immersing ourselves in the Word of God and engaging in prayer, our faith weakens.
Two cycles then – a virtuous faith cycle, and a vicious lack of faith cycle.
The great news is that if we find ourselves on the latter, it is easy to switch to the former; we just need to pick up the Bible, study the Word, and to pray to God.
I wonder which of these cycles you are currently on?
Do you want to strengthen your faith?
How might you do this?