14 And when they had come to the multitude, a man came to Him, kneeling down to Him and saying, 15 “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is lunatick and suffers severely; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. 16 So I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.”
Bad translations make our work to understand the Bible much more difficult. The word used by the father to describe his son is σεληνιάζεται. It comes from the word “selini” which means the moon. The old King James has it right. It translates it “lunatick.” “Luna” in Latin, is the Moon. This father is faithless. We know this because Jesus will say so. This father believes the superstition that moon beams can cause severe illness. It's bad enough that he believes this, but what's worse, he doesn't have a clue that this is a demon possessing his son. And what do demons want for us? Suicide. Pigs over the cliff into the sea. Remember? So, what does the Son do? He throws himself into fire and water.
Notice, too, how the father is unwilling to ascribe any failure, any lack of faith to himself. He shifts the blame to the apostles. "They” couldn't cure the boy! Of course, it appears he went to the disciples first. That was his mistake. Formerly Jesus had given the power to cast out demons and to heal diseases to His disciples when he sent them out to preach. But Jesus did not go with them. Here, Jesus is present, yet the man goes to the disciples. When a person comes to seek something, one goes to the Master, not the disciples to request it. The same principle holds when the Bishop is present; one does not ask a blessing from the priests. They won't give it to you.
17 Then Jesus answered and said, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me.” 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour.
The faithless and perverse generation refers to the father, but not only his father. It also refers to all of those who are standing there who are so willing to exchange the truth for a lie, who are so deeply in the camp of Satan, even if they are unaware of it, that they find themselves or their loved ones in such a condition as this child.
How long shall I be with you? Not much longer. The Lord is already looking toward Golgotha and His Passion. He is clearly concerned that He is running out of time to prepare His disciples.
Jesus rebuked the demon. What is a rebuke? The Greek word used here is ἐπετίμησεν. It means to rebuke in the sense of imposing a consequence for sin. Sometimes a father-confessor will impose a “penance,” an “epitmia” on a penitent, so we are familiar with this word. Obviously Jesus is directing this "correction" to the father, and to his son, and to the crowds, more than to the demon, who will accept no correction. Psalm 38:12 says: "With rebukes hast Thou chastened man for sin." The Gospel doesn't give us the words of the rebuke. But the word of truth spoken by the Lord caused the demon to flee from the boy. Isaiah 55:11 says:
"So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it." And Psalm 32:9 says: “For he spoke, and they came to be; He commanded and they were created."
19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as 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. 21 However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”
What happened here? Hadn’t Christ given the power over the demons to His disciples when He sent them out two-by-two to preach in Galilee? Yes! But now, they were utterly unable to cast the demon out of the boy. The reason? Jesus says it was due to their unbelief. St Theophylact says that the"unbelief" here means faith not yet perfected, or immature. His Word had given them the power in the past. He withdrew that power now. It's important to know that spiritual gifts do not belong to us, they belong to Christ. We do not exercise any spiritual gift in accordance with our own will or for our own glory. We do not rob God of His glory, especially when He's standing nearby! This is their unbelief. They still don't fully grasp who Jesus is. A mustard seed is tiny, but it’s not invisible. Faith, if it is to attract grace, must have some substance to it!
The mountain is a metaphor for the seemingly impossible. In this case, it means a powerful demon. Did any of the Apostles ever move a mountain? Not that I am aware of. It doesn't mean that they didn't, though. Evidently Marco Polo encountered a group of believers in his travels who reported that in the past a local magistrate had ordered them to either prove their Christian faith by casting a real mountain into the sea, or be killed. When the Christians prayed, the mountain hurled itself into the sea and their lives were spared. There are numerous accounts from the lives of the saints, in which mountains were moved, or mountains opened up to protect the saints. One of my favorite stories, though, comes from the life of St. Mark the Anchorite, a fourth century ascetic. Saint related his life to Abba Serapion who, by the will of God, visited him before his death.
During his conversation with Abba Serapion, St Mark inquired how things stood in the world. He asked about the Church of Christ, and whether persecutions against Christians still continued. Hearing that persecutions had ceased long ago, the saint rejoiced and asked, "Are there now in the world saints working miracles, as the Lord spoke of in His Gospel, 'If ye have faith even as a grain of mustard seed, ye will say to this mountain, move from that place, and it will move, and nothing shall be impossible for you' (Mt.17:20)?"
As the saint spoke these words, a nearby mountain began to move from its place, heading toward the sea. When St Mark saw that the mountain had moved, he said, "I did not order you to move from your place! I was conversing with a brother. Go back to where you were before!" After this, the mountain reversed its course and returned to its place. Abba Serapion fell down in fright. St Mark took him by the hand and asked, "Have you never seen such miracles in your lifetime?" "No, Father," Abba Serapion replied. Then St Mark wept bitterly and said, "Alas, in the world today there are Christians in name only, but not in deeds."
“Prayer and fasting.” Without some degree of ascesis, some amount of struggle or “podvig,” some effort to discipline ourselves in soul and body, faith is not empowered. “Faith without works is dead,” says James the Lord’s Brother (James 2:26). St. Paisios the Athonite says, “the mind of man cannot grasp the divine energies if he does not first practice ascesis and LIVE the divine energies, that the grace of God might be energized within him” (Epistles, p. 129).
May God grant us the grace to be wary of the devil and his wiles, to admit our sins and failures, and to energize our faith by true discipleship, especially in the area of prayer and fasting. Amen.