by Kristin Fontaine
Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
The above quote is from the gospel reading for Friday’s Daily Office. It struck me because it seems to contradict itself.
‘I believe,’ the father says. That seems pretty comprehensive.
‘…help my unbelief!’ the father says in his next breath.
It is as if in the very moment he said ‘I believe’ he realized that he didn’t, really. However, the line just before the father’s statement is:
Jesus said to him, ‘If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.’
In this moment, the son is having a seizure and the father is watching in anguish.
Like the hemorrhaging woman from two weeks ago, this child has been suffering for a long time with this illness.
Like Jairus, this father has been watching his child suffer, only able to watch and try to keep his child from additional injury.
He has told Jesus that the boy has fallen into flames and into water in the past.
Even in this moment of great duress, the father is honest. He wants Jesus to save his son. He wants to believe, but he can’t quite get there on his own.
He asks Jesus to help his ‘unbelief’ and while nothing else is said of faith or belief, Jesus does drive out the possessing spirit and heal the child.
I suspect my own faith is much closer to this father’s than to the hemorrhaging woman. She was rock solid in her belief that just touching Jesus would heal her. Given the number of times in the Gospels that faith effects a change (following Jesus, being healed, walking on water) it is tempting to think that Jesus only responds to those of ‘true faith’.
However, in this story we see someone who understands that faith is necessary while in the midst of doubt that he could ever have such faith. I think the key to this story is that the father asks for help, not only in healing his child, but in finding his own faith and that Jesus accepts that and goes on with the healing.
The father’s offering of a desire for faith was enough.
All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway.
Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round. It all spills out in the essays she writes. She and her husband own Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.
Image: James Tissot – healing of the boy public domain