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.”
The disciples were Jesus’ students, his learners, his apprentices. This is a ‘trying to do it like he did it story’. A sort of ‘we had a go, but didn’t get it quite right’ narrative. What an encouragement for people like me who are still trying to be Jesus’ apprentices but who are still not getting it right.
Jesus was a proclaimer of the ‘Good News’, a healer and a driver out of demons. Not content with his own three-fold ministry he tried to teach and equip his disciples to repeat it. Often they went with him, watching, remembering, and no doubt discussing it all afterwards. On some occasions Jesus sent them out on missions as an extension of his own. First he sent out the 12 and then the 72. They copied and learnt from him. But they didn’t do it as well or as effectively as him and why should they have? Sometimes the student surpasses the teacher, occasionally an apprentice will paint better than the master, but not often and certainly not when the teacher, master craftsman is the utterly unique Jesus.
In this story Jesus is returning from the Mount of the Transfiguration with his three chosen closest followers, Peter, James and John. He discovers that the rest of his disciples have been approached by a desperate father to heal his epileptic son. The poor old disciples have tried and failed in front of a large crowd. We have all been there. I have been there too many times to remember, prayed for healing while others watched, called for people to step out in faith in front of a watching church, and realised halfway through that this was not going to work.
Many times I have listened to preachers going on about John 14:12, ‘very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these’. Always I have felt impelled to do these greater works and yet have never really believed that I could or would.
So I love this story, of these vulnerable and naïve disciples trying and failing before the watching and judging crowd. I feel I am in good company.
Does this then mean that we can just give up and abandon the whole thing as an impossible idea? Not at all, I go on learning and trying to follow the master, but perhaps with a more realistic expectation. The key to the disciples’ failure is their lack of faith, or of their only having little faith. The disciples then and the disciples now, that is you and me, need to have greater faith. Greater faith in God and probably greater faith in ourselves too.
Now before finishing on a rather negative note here are two positive ideas. Firstly, just about every time I pray for someone to get better, or lay hands on someone they always seem to like it. There is almost always a sense of peace, thankfulness and some sort of blessing. Secondly, the more I attempt this sort of ministry the more happens. Conversely the more I collapse internally and avoid it, the less I see happen. Today or maybe tomorrow, or perhaps both, you are going to meet someone who needs positive prayer. You will probably hear two voices. Voice number one will say, ’Go on, jump in and offer to pray for them.’ Voice number two, which is often the ‘in control’ voice will say something like, ‘You can’t say that, they may feel uncomfortable, it might not work.’
Which voice are you going to listen to?
You were the greatest of leaders.
Help me to learn from you,
To become like you,
And to step out in faith.