Matthew 17:14-21

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 17:14-21

This is a common story in the gospels. A parent brings a sick child to Jesus hoping for help. What is uncommon about this particular story is that the parent first brought his child to Jesus’ disciples who were unable to help. Not unwilling, simply unable. Further, what is uncommon is that this story follows immediately after the affirmation of the Transfiguration. Even the demons listen to the voice of the beloved Son of God. The boy is cured instantly.

As we read this story we are not surprised to hear about a sick child. We are not surprised to hear that the disciples were unable to help. We are not even surprised to read that the boy was cured instantly. What IS surprising are the words of Jesus:

“You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you?”

Jesus doesn’t often talk like this. His words reveal his frustration with what he calls a faithless and perverse generation. Those are harsh words. Faithless means a lack of trust that God can do anything of significance. Perverse means a twisted re-ordering of reality, accepting the brokenness of life as natural, and rejecting the loving will of God as normative. Such a generation looks at the father of a sick child and throws its hands up in the air in helplessness, “There isn’t anything we can do. Just deal with it.”

Jesus doesn’t throw his hands up in the air helplessly about anything. He draws from the deep reservoir of God’s love and he makes a positive difference wherever he can. He sees a healed, restored, creation, and he works toward it. Today that means restoring a child to health. And it means expressing his frustration toward those who just don’t get it. They don’t see the possibility of another way, a more helpful way, a more whole and holy way. Dealing not just with that particular parent or child but with all parents and children.

The constant surprise in the gospels is not just that people don’t understand what Jesus is up to, they actively oppose and reject him. More on that tomorrow. But for now, consider this.

Millions of children in our country are able to go to the doctor when they are sick, regardless of their parents’ economic status or ability to pay, due to the Children’s Health Insurance Program, commonly known as CHIP. This program was adopted in a bipartisan way and has been in place for 20 years. It has been a blessing to the children of low and moderate income parents and pregnant women. On October 1st of this year Congress chose not to reauthorize it. Its funding was cut off. Now it appears to be just another bargaining chip in tax policy negotiations occurring under the promise of the “greatest tax cut in the history of our country.”

If that program dies without replacement it will not be because of our inability but because of our unwillingness. It is not a matter of capacities but of priorities. If sick children of poor parents are last on the list of our priorities then are we not indeed a faithless and perverse generation?

Let us pray: Dear Lord, so often we feel helpless in the face of challenges that seem insurmountable. Like your disciples, we find ourselves unable. But you – you who command us to love one another – also promise to use our hands to do your work. Give us that faith that sees possibilities, that reorders priorities, that moves mountains, that brings healing. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


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