37 On the next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met Him. 38 And a man from the crowd shouted, saying, “Teacher, I beg You to look at my son, for he is my only boy, 39 and a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly screams, and it throws him into a convulsion with foaming at the mouth; and only with difficulty does it leave him, mauling him as it leaves. 40 I begged Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not.” 41 And Jesus answered and said, “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was still approaching, the demon slammed him to the ground and threw him into a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the boy and gave him back to his father. 43 And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.
It’s interesting to note that Jesus and his inner circle of disciples are returning from their hike up the mountain of transfiguration. It was a defining moment for Jesus and you’ll start to hear a great deal more from Him about His coming death and resurrection. But it was also a spiritual high point. The disciples had seen the glory of Christ. They had seen a manifestation of the Father and heard His voice. They were in a place of spiritual awe.
And now they’re dealing with another demon and their nine fellow discouraged disciples who have been having a devil of a time (pun intended) trying to handle it.
As we saw earlier, life doesn’t wait for us to rest and it often doesn’t care how great of a day we’re having before it presents challenges. The good news in all this is that the Lord is with them and with us. That sounds trite sometimes, depending on the how difficult the challenges are and how awful circumstances become, but sometimes that faith, that hope is the only thing that keeps us afloat.
Alright, so Jesus’ response is somewhat unexpected. Here’s a guy coming for help in curing his son who is afflicted with a demon that is causing him physical harm. There is some debate about whether or not this is simply seizures and not a demon at all, but Christ reportedly treats it like one, so I will as well.
But the response from Jesus is less than what we expect. He takes the time to castigate everyone for their unbelief, calling them a perverted generation. He expresses exasperation at having to ‘put up with them.’ Then He tells them to bring the boy by.
Maybe He is frustrated with the disciples He left behind. In Mark’s rendition of this story (9:14-28), Jesus later tells them that this particular demon could not be cast out by anything but prayer. Matthew’s account adds fasting. (17:21)
So it’s possible that the disciples that had stayed behind had been neglecting the practice of prayer and were relying more on themselves and the authority that Jesus had previously given them, and that as a result, Christ was directing his rebuke to them for not relying and having faith in God.
It’s also possible that He is responding to the crowd, that despite having seen Him do the miraculous on a regular basis, has doubts about Him now. See the father’s response in Mark,
“But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”
So it’s possible that in His disciple’s failure to heal this boy that the crowd was starting to believe that even Jesus was not able to do this and were losing faith in Him, in which case the rebuke was more directed to them. The presence of the scribes and their argument with the disciples would reinforce that position. Christ may have been talking to the scribes, who had constantly resisted Him and His ministry. The exasperation certainly matches the tone of His other homilies towards them.
Another oddity was how exactly this boy became afflicted with his malady in the first place. It would be easy to attribute it to natural causes if it were a disease, but the text does indicate that this disease has a spiritual component to it. Are the authors simply spiritualizing a healing, interpreting it in a manner that made sense to them theologically? Or, taken at face value, is it possible that God would allow a malevolent force to plague, harm, and torture a child?
I’ve seen commentators try to explain this in terms of personal sin. That the boy likely was into some sort of occult rituals or did something that allowed the demon to seize him, but that seems like a particular stretch. This boy has been afflicted since childhood. It’s hard to imagine a child doing anything that would merit such a horrific circumstance to befall him.
Ultimately, it’s an unknown. One that I’m not comfortable with.
But the overarching narrative here is the control that Jesus has over the circumstances. Despite the seizures the demon afflicts on the young man in His presence, Jesus remains calm and resolute, rebuking the demon and healing the boy.
I suppose that goes back to our faith that we cling to in the most challenging of circumstances. That even when we don’t understand everything about what’s happening, that Jesus is calm, resolute, and has us securely in His hand.
And maybe that’s enough for now.
Still, if you have other commentaries that go into more depth on this passage, I’d appreciate any help in resolving my lingering questions.