Gospel reading for the Commemoration of William Carey, Missionary to India
When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, and said, ‘Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.’ Jesus answered, ‘You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.’ And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. For truly I tell 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; and nothing will be impossible for you.’ – Matthew 17:14-20
Many of those who came to Jesus came as desperate people. Lepers, paralytics, apparently possessed, hemorrhaging — these were people who had only the tiniest bit of hope left and that was Jesus. As much as we empathize with the adults seeking help, how much more can we identify with parents of young children who are sick and/or dying? It’s lovely to think of Jesus with a lap full of laughing, healthy children, but even in our own time not all children are so fortunate. Even among those of us who have had children but without the fear and helplessness of severe illness or potential death, we can still feel the pain of the father who begins this story. I have a feeling that anyone, parent or not, who loves children can feel some of his pain if not all of it. It’s one of those “You can’t unless you’ve been there.” They’re right; but that doesn’t mean we don’t feel deeply and with anguish.
Parents generally will do anything for their kids. What we heard from our parents was that they worked hard so that we could have more and better things than they had when they were children. When my generation started raising children, we had pretty much the same ethic — make it better for the children than we have it. There are times when I think we as a generation did it wrong – or maybe for the wrong reasons. We loved our kids like our parents loved us, we just loved a bit too unwisely and too well, beginning a cycle of gotta-have-more-gotta-have-better-gotta-beat-the-Joneses. We invented vaccinations, car seats, seat belts, pool fences, pool alarms, kid-proof locks, all sorts of things to try to keep them safe and they still get sick and they still get hurt. Still, almost any parent will do almost anything for their kids, including begging for help when there seems to be no other alternative.
The man and the child became lessons for Jesus’ disciples. “Why couldn’t we take care of that? We tried!” The disciples seemed a bit daunted by their inability to do something they were sure they should be able to do. It was like knowing the principles but not knowing the application of those principles. The disciples undoubtedly knew the mechanics of how to do what they felt they should be able to do, they just lacked the main ingredient. They probably could have learned something from the boy’s father in the faith department. He had no hesitation, no ego involvement, no nothing except an overwhelming need to help his son and trust that Jesus was the one to accomplish that. In short, the disciples should have trusted more, believed harder and looked more to the source of the healing rather than thinking of themselves as healers.
Since Jesus introduced the mustard seed as a size comparison for true faith, then I would guess the disciples were somewhere around the size of a celery seed. The father was probably closer to the mustard seed and Jesus himself could have used a pumpkin seed as a comparison. I have to ask myself, though, what size seed is my faith? How would I stack up if I were in this story? Now that’s a question for pondering.
I love my son dearly. I’m glad I’ve never had to go through what the man in the story did, although he has had bumps, bruises and a couple of serious accidents from which he still has some slight scars. I have to wonder if I were in that parent’s shoes (or rather sandals), would I have had the faith he did? I don’t know, but I have a feeling I wouldn’t have just taken “No” for an answer and brought him home to quietly live his life under the cloud of his disease. After all, there are times when a parent has to say “There’s nothing I won’t do for my kid to give him the chance to grow up and be the best he can be.”
I don’t plan on trying to heal anybody or measure my faith against a shelf of seeds of various kinds. I don’t plan on moving any mountains although there are a few molehills I wouldn’t mind shifting somewhere other than where they are. I think, though, that I need to concentrate on a message I seem to be getting from God, “Hey, pick up the hurt and diseased parts of yourself and bring it all to me. If you believe, I can make you whole because I am your parent and I want the best for you. You just have to believe that you are worth it, not that you are worthy of it. Remember, I am God — and I don’t have any grandchildren.*”
That’s something to think about — what God won’t do for God’s kids.
*adapted from Eli Stanley Jones.