We have now read, for the third time, the story of the father bringing his demon possessed son to be healed by Jesus.
We read it in Matthew 17 and Mark 9 as well.
For some reason, after reading it for the third time, I got a new understanding of the response Jesus gave.
To refresh your memory, Matthew’s version has the father calling it epilepsy and wanted the disciples to cure him, yet Matthew says Jesus “rebuked the demon” (17:18) (side point, that means it was a demon, not a disease).
Mark’s version adds that the scribes were present and “disputing with them” (9:14), “them” being the 9 disciples that weren’t with Jesus up on the Mount of Transfiguration. So picture the scene, it was a “great multitude” of people!
Luke’s version is the shortest, but included the words of Jesus that the other accounts told as well, “Oh faithless and perverse generation. How long should I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” (9:41)
I always assumed that Jesus directed that comment to the disciples because when they asked him why they couldn’t expel the demons, he said it was because of their unbelief. HOWEVER, that is not necessarily the case that He directed this comment to the 12!!
I got a new understanding of the scene when I re-read Mark's version. (Sometimes chapter divisions or verse numbers and paragraph titles added by the Bible translators can keep me from seeing the natural flow of the story!)
Let's back up a little. Jesus is talking with the three disciples that are with him as they are walking down the mountain. (Mark 9:9) They ask him why Elijah must come first. Jesus says Elijah, AKA John the Baptist, “must restore all things”. Meaning, turn people back to the ways of God, “preparing the way” (Luke 1:76) for Jesus.
Jesus goes on to say in this conversation, “But I say to you that Elijah has also come, and they did to him whatever they wished, as it is written of him.” (Mark 9:13) THE VERY NEXT VERSE, verse 14 says, “And when he came to the disciples, (the other 9) he saw a great multitude, around scribes disputing with them.”
So, fresh off that conversation where Jesus just said, "they did what they wished" (John was beheaded), he calls this multitude a faithless and preverse generation. Jesus wasn’t saying that to his disciples! He was saying this to the multitude!
Read what one commentary wrote about the scene:
“This father was exceedingly faithless. And for this reason the demon did not depart from his child, the unbelief overcoming the power of the apostles. Even now the man brazenly displays his unbelief, approaching the Lord in the presence of all to accuse His disciples. But the Lord shows him that his unbelief caused the child not to be healed, and He in turn rebukes him in the presence of all, and not only him, but all the others with him as well. When He says, O faithless generation, He includes all the Jews.”
That was Theophylact's explanation of the passage in Luke. He was one of the most famous Byzantine biblical scholars and exegete in 1100 AD.
Cyril of Alexandria (c 376-444) and John Chrysostom (c 349-407) offer similar interpretations in their commentaries on Luke and Matthew, respectively.
Interesting!!! That makes the farher’s words so much more understandable! “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)
So, what do we do with the fact that Jesus said the disciples had “unbelief” in Matthew’s version? Well, if we don’t think of that harsh statement of “preverse generation” being directed at the 9, than it almost seems
to me like a fatherly encouragement session he had with them afterwards. “If you have faith…nothing will be impossible for you”
He then sets them up to feel that boost of encouragement in Luke 10, which I am sure they needed after that episode!
I loved reading how excited the 70 were when they got back from their little mission trip and reported to Jesus, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And ……”In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the spirit..” (Luke 10:21)
I LOVE getting new insights like this in familiar stories!!! So fun!
How about you? Have you ever read it that way before?