Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, July 29, 2018. Matthew, 17:14-23

In today’s Gospel text the nine apostles are perplexed in not being able to exorcize the devil who took possession of the young man.

Today we would probably recognize the boy’s malady as epilepsy. In Jesus’ time it was thought to be caused by phases of the moon, thus the use of the word, lunatic.

The account of this miracle as recorded by Mark’s Gospel emphasizes the destructive force of evil. Here in Matthew’s account, the emphasis is on the unbelief that made the disciples unable to drive out the demon.

Our Lord had just come with Peter, James, and John from his transfiguration on Mount Tabor. He had manifested his glory to those three apostles and revealed that we are meant to be transfigured into the divine life.

Now he sees the predicament of his other apostles and his disciples. They fail in being transfigured into that divine life

He exclaims, “O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you?”

Contrary to what the popular culture would have us believe, the devil really exists and wages a relentless war against the human race. In devious ways he exercises his diabolical mission on earth.

The sole purpose of the devil is evil – specifically, the destruction of the people God created to live in love with himself.

Lucifer waged the first battle against God, leading other angels in a rebellion to set themselves up over God.

Lucifer was the victim of a singular, uninfluenced, and un-tempted choice. That is why his punishment is irrevocable.

The next battle came with Adam. The devil tempted Eve. Under the devil’s influence, Eve tempted Adam. Thus began humanity’s eternal struggle with good and evil.

Calling his generation perverse, Jesus meant that although people’s hearts are strongly inclined to evil; nevertheless, the world’s greatest sin is unbelief.

God speaks, but his words never penetrate the human heart. The world has always been full of falsehood and wickedness, a life-style of perversity in every age, including our own. People don’t really change much over the generations. How can one explain God’s love for such perverse humanity? He loves people in spite of their sins. One wonders why he would even bother to create people. This is surely a great mystery.

Whatever the motive for this unexplained, persistent divine love, Christ tells his apostles that all things are possible to those who believe. Faith, even as minuscule as a mustard seed, could move mountains, Christ told them.

The mustard plant in Palestine is both a wild and a cultivated tree. The leaves are dark green and the flowers pale yellow. It grows to a considerable size.

Faith to move a mountain is obviously an over-statement to emphasize Jesus’ point. This saying was a proverbial Jewish expression.

The casting of a mountain into the sea is a symbol expressing a mighty achievement, It indicates something that is high above the natural powers of mere mortals.

And Jesus adds another dimension. He strongly insists that faith is not a static life-style, a passive attitude.

“This kind can be cast out only by prayer and fasting,” he warned. In other words, besides a living faith in God there must be restraint and discipline, the pursuit of the ascetical life.

Perhaps this is what is so lacking in today’s people. So many people are unwilling to give up anything; to sacrifice for a greater good; to put self last rather than first. Only faith will give a person the strength to do this.

By comparing faith to the growth of the mustard tree, Jesus indicates that faith is a continuous growing process. It never stops. If we live lives of faith, God can and will overcome the demons in our lives. If we live lives of faith God will unite us to himself in the most intimate way possible.


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