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Saturday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time.. The reading is from Gospel of Matthew 17:14-20.

Jesus about to heal a boy by William Brassey Hole

Jesus about to heal a boy by William Brassey Hole

The Healing of a Boy with a Demon – Matthew 17:14-20

When they came to the crowd a man approached, knelt down before him [Jesus], and said, “Lord, have pity on my son, for he 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.”

Jesus said in reply, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring him here to me.”

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

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.

Matthew has greatly shortened the Marcan story. Leaving aside several details of the boy’s illness, he concentrates on the need for faith, not so much on the part of the boy’s father (as does Mark, for Matthew omits

  • Then he questioned his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” He replied, “Since childhood. It has often thrown him into fire and into water to kill him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.” Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:21–24)

but on that of his own disciples whose inability to drive out the demon is ascribed to their little faith

  • 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.” (Matthew 17:20)

A lunatic

This description of the boy as “a lunatic” in

and said, “Lord, have pity on my son, for he is a lunatic and suffers severely; often he falls into fire, and often into water. (Matthew 17:15)

is peculiar to Matthew. The word occurs in the New Testament only here and in

  • His fame spread to all of Syria, and they brought to him all who were sick with various diseases and racked with pain, those who were possessed, lunatics, and paralytics, and he cured them. (Matthew 4:24)

The word “lunatic” means “one affected or struck by the moon.” The symptoms of the boy’s illness point to epilepsy, and during the period of Jesus and Matthew attacks of this nature were thought to be caused by phases of the moon.

Not until the following verse

  • Jesus rebuked him and the demon came out of him, and from that hour the boy was cured. (Matthew 17:18)

does Matthew indicate that the boy’s illness is a case of demoniacal possession.

O faithless and perverse generation

In the following verses, Matthew and Luke say “O faithless and perverse generation

  • Jesus said in reply, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring him here to me.” (Matthew 17:17)
  • Jesus said in reply, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you and endure you? Bring your son here.” (Like 9:41)

whereas Mark just says “O faithless generation” leaving out the word “perverse”

  • He said to them in reply, “O faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring him to me.” (Mark 9:19)

The Greek word διεστραμμένη (diestrammenē) translated as perverse in this Greek text (Matthew 17:17)

  • ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν· ὦ γενεὰ ἄπιστος καὶ διεστραμμένη, ἕως πότε μεθ’ ὑμῶν ἔσομαι; ἕως πότε ἀνέξομαι ὑμῶν φέρετε μοι αὐτὸν ὧδε. (Matthew 17:17)

is the same as the word עִקֵּ֖שׁ (‘iq·qêš) translated as twisted, willful or perverse in Deuteronomy 32:5 LXX where Moses speaks to his people.

  • Yet his degenerate children have treated him basely, a twisted and crooked generation! (Deuteronomy 32:5 LXX)
  • שִׁחֵ֥ת לֹ֛ו לֹ֖א בָּנָ֣יו מוּמָ֑ם דֹּ֥ור עִקֵּ֖שׁ וּפְתַלְתֹּֽל׃ (Deuteronomy 32:5 LXX)

There is a problem in knowing to whom the reproach is addressed. Since the Matthean Jesus normally chides his disciples for their little faith (as in Matthew 17:20), it would appear that the charge of lack of faith could not be made against them and that the reproach is addressed to unbelievers among the Jews. However in Matthew 17:20b (“if you have faith the size of a mustard seed”), which is certainly addressed to the disciples, they appear to have not even the smallest faith; if they had, they would have been able to cure the boy. In the light of Matthew 17:20b the reproach of Matthew 17:17 could have applied to the disciples. There seems to be an inconsistency between the charge of little faith in Matthew 17:20a and that of not even a little in Matthew 17:20b.

Little Faith

This entire verse

  • 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.” (Matthew 17:20)

is an addition of Matthew who (according to the better attested text) omits the reason given for the disciples’ inability as Mark says in

  • He said to them, “This kind can only come out through prayer.” (Mark 9:29)

Matthew says “of your little faith” here (Matthew 17:20) and says “O you of little faith” in

  • If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? (Matthew 6:30)

Except for the parallel in Luke

  • If God so clothes the grass in the field that grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? (Luke 12:28)

the word translated “of little faith” is found in the New Testament only in Matthew.

Here are the Marcan and the Lucan versions of “The Healing of a Boy with a Demon.”

The Healing of a Boy with a Demon – Mark 9:14-29

Jesus heals the epileptic boy by Harold Coping

Jesus heals the epileptic boy by Harold Coping

When they came to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and scribes arguing with them. Immediately on seeing him [ Jesus], the whole crowd was utterly amazed. They ran up to him and greeted him.

He asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?”

Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I have brought to you my son possessed by a mute spirit. Wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they were unable to do so.”

He said to them in reply, “O faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring him to me.”

They brought the boy to him. And when he saw him, the spirit immediately threw the boy into convulsions. As he fell to the ground, he began to roll around and foam at the mouth.

Then he questioned his father, “How long has this been happening to him?”

He replied, “Since childhood. It has often thrown him into fire and into water to kill him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

Jesus said to him, “‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.”

Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”

Jesus, on seeing a crowd rapidly gathering, rebuked the unclean spirit and said to it, “Mute and deaf spirit, I command you: come out of him and never enter him again!”

Shouting and throwing the boy into convulsions, it came out. He became like a corpse, which caused many to say, “He is dead!”

But Jesus took him by the hand, raised him, and he stood up.

When he entered the house, his disciples asked him in private, “Why could we not drive it out?”

He said to them, “This kind can only come out through prayer.

The Healing of a Boy with a Demon – Luke 9:37-43

Jesus heals the epileptic boy

Jesus heals the epileptic boy

On the next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him.

There was a man in the crowd who cried out, “Teacher, I beg you, look at my son; he is my only child. For a spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams and it convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it releases him only with difficulty, wearing him out. I begged your disciples to cast it out but they could not.”

Jesus said in reply, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you and endure you? Bring your son here.”

As he was coming forward, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion; but Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and returned him to his father.

And all were astonished by the majesty of God.

.

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