Luke 9: 37 – 43 Jesus heals a demon-possessed boy
The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. A man in the crowd called out, ‘Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.’
‘You unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.’
Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the impure spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.
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This is another event that is described in all three of the synoptic gospels. The parallel passages are Matthew 17: 14 – 20, and Mark 9: 14 – 29.
Jesus, Peter, James and John return from the wonderful experience of the transfiguration to a scene of disorder. St Luke only talks of a large crowd, but St Mark says “When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.”
I’m sure Jesus already knew what was going on, and how he would handle it, but he asks the question, ‘What are you arguing with them about?’. He asks this so that everybody present knows what the trouble is, and will know what they have witnessed.
The man explains the symptoms from which his son suffers, and adds (in St Mark’s account) ‘I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.’
Ah. So that’s the root of the problem. The disciples had failed to heal the boy, and the teachers of the law had criticised them for their failure.
This failure is important for us. Jesus had specifically given the disciples authority to cast out demons and heal diseases. They had successfully used that authority and healed people miraculously. Why did they fail this time?
Jesus’ reply to the father and to the crowd was scathing. ‘You unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.’
The problem was lack of faith. The father had a little faith – he wouldn’t have come to Jesus at all if he hadn’t. The crowd were probably like crowds everywhere, eager to see a miracle, and if that failed, eager to crow over the discredited miracle worker. Jesus could see the whole frustrating cycle. The more hostile the crowd, the harder for the disciples to use their faith and the less likely they were to heal the boy.
Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion.
I wonder how the disciples felt? I wonder if there was any vestige of doubt in their minds that Jesus himself might fail to heal the boy? Faith would have been difficult, I’m sure.
But Jesus rebuked the impure spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.
Despite the hostility, despite the scepticism, despite the lack of faith of the crowd, and despite the father’s doubts, Jesus heals the boy. It is an act of compassion to the boy, a free gift. It is an object lesson to the disciples, and a powerful boost to their faith. To any in the crowd who are prepared to receive it, it is a sign that Jesus’ ministry comes from God.
I said earlier that the disciples’ failure was important for us. The disciples had direct, personal teaching from Jesus. They had been given a specific commission to cast out demons and heal the sick. They had performed miracles themselves.
And yet they still failed!
The message I take from that is that when I fail, I must not give up. I must go to Jesus in prayer and ask him what I need to do to stop failing.
I’m sorry for failing you. Please teach me what I need to do to follow Jesus better, and help me have the strength to do it.
In Jesus name, Amen