Lord I believe; the demon-possessed boy
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The lunatic boy: Lord I believe, help me to believe.
Verses: Matthew 17: 17-21, Mark 9: 22-42, Luke 9: 37-43
Summary of the story: A man brings his epileptic son to the
disciples to be healed. The disciples try but nothing happens.
The man waits for Jesus who finally heals the boy.
The father's narrative:
The parent of a regular child can't possibly understand the
dread I felt in the beginning of my child's illness. At first it
was just a discomfort: the child did something a bit odd. I
noted it --thought it a bit strange-- told myself it would go
away. But the strange behavior, affliction, what you will..
doesn't go away. Rather, it becomes more frequent, more
noticeable. And after a while such a parent cannot hide the
truth from himself: his child is suffering, his child is in pain. In short, there's something "different" and "wrong" with his child.
And thus it was with my son. And this was no passive
illness that allowed the child to suffer alone. This affliction
had a purpose: the child's destruction. During the day, I had no
peace. My wife's eyes and mind, my own eyes and mind, are ever
alert. We never knew where he would walk. To the cooking fire
to fall in? To the lake, to drown?
And at night, while he slept, we watched and thought of the
hopes we had for him. We thought of the mad, sick, people we saw
wondering in the streets. We remember the grief-stricken faces
of people whose children have died. We try to clear our minds of
the advice of well-meaning know-it-all friends. They think they
know...they don't know. And on the day my son was healed, there
was something else we had to endure, our last spiritual hurdle.
On the day Jesus and his followers came to town, I stood in
the crowd with my son, waiting. You may imagine the trouble and
pain it took dragging this child to the healer. My son can be
very stubborn sometimes. Communicating with him was hard. But
we finally got there...through the crowded streets. I had
hope....it was small and faint, but it was hope nonetheless.
When I got there, Jesus was nowhere to be seen. He was on
top of the mountain. Praying, resting, talking to God like Moses.
I don't know. He just wasn't where I wanted him. And the longer
he stayed away, the more the crowd grew, and the more the sick
people arrived. At first, my son and I were one in fifty and
then one in a hundred and then one in two hundred. And after
awhile it just seemed as if the world was one large sick crowd
waiting for a deliverer. And who was my son, and who was I that
we should be noticed among all these people? So many needy
people and Jesus was on top of the mountain. How could he be
His disciples were healing people. I marveled. He taught
them well. They healed so many... Never had I seen such a sight
in Israel, no not in all my life. So many deaf and sick and
maimed people healed. It strengthened my little faith. They knew
how to pray. Their prayers were effective. My hope rose for a
miracle. I imagined my son and I returning home and giving glory
to God for giving such gifts to men. They worked hard, those
men. And at last, after waiting for them to come to us, it was
finally our turn. I brought my son forward.
"Please to pray to God to heal my son. He is a lunatic and
the spirit wants to kill him."
They prayed. Nothing happened. They prayed again. Nothing
happened. Or rather, this time the trouble got worse. It was as
if the evil was mocking us. And that's when Jesus's disciples
began to look troubled. They started looking nervously into each
other's faces. But God was silent. No change at all occurred in
my poor son's condition. This troubled me greatly.
Everyone else had been healed by his disciples. Everyone except
us. I am not a man who feels easily rejected. But let me tell
you: being the only one there who hadn't been touched by God was
distressing. I wondered about my holiness, I wondered about the
holiness of those praying for my son. I wondered if there was a
limit to the rabbi's healing gifts...what if there was a point
beyond which man's prayers couldn't go? And then there was my
poor son: how was all this non-productive praying affecting him?
Surely, he had some inkling that a great failure had occurred. I
started to leave.
But then I told myself: these men are only followers of the
master. They themselves are not the master. I remembered the
Great Woman in our scriptures whose son was not healed by
Elijah's servant. I remembered how that woman refused to give up
and went to the prophet himself...and the prophet healed her son.
I thought to myself: God gave us these Scriptures to encourage
and teach us. He wants me to persevere. I will wait for the
rabbi himself. Yes, I told myself, the prophet will do what his
followers cannot. And so I waited. And waited. Two or three
hours until he came down. And in the meantime, a disturbance
rose up: the crowd and the teacher's followers were having loud
arguments about my son: why wasn't he healed? What kind of power
did they really have? Were they wise enough or good enough?
"Here is a spirit," someone said. "These men have no power over
And then all around me, I heard philosophical and
theological discussions. The priests saying God did not heal
through this man, Jesus, that this teacher couldn't heal my
son... Oh they had so many reasons why I should not believe, so
much learned theology. And there were the disciples...looking
almost embarrassed when they glanced at my son, their great
public failure. And we stood there, my son and I the distraught
center of all that arguing, disputing and debating. I tried not
to listen, but soon, the little faith I had when I arrived
started to dwindle away. But I did not walk away. I kept
wondering if Jesus could indeed heal my boy. I told myself I had
come this far; I might as well go through to the end and wait to
And then I saw someone coming down the mountain. And I
heard someone else say that it was Jesus. I watched. He came
down from the hilltop and looked at everyone: they were still
arguing and they raced towards him...still arguing. I rushed to
Jesus and cut them off, having my say before they could open
"If you can heal him, please heal my lunatic son. Your
disciples tried and couldn't do it."
Then he did something that surprised me and pretty much
embarrassed those followers of his. He gave them a good
talking-to, told his disciples they had no faith. But he was
kind to me. He asked me how long my son been ill and got some
background information. And then he turned to me.
"If you can believe," he said, "All things are possible to
him who believes."
His voice had a compassionate other-worldly authority. But
his words stabbed at my heart. He had put the entire business of
healing my son on my faith. And after listening to those priests
and all that religious debate, I had almost no faith left.
I could only make a meager confession: "Lord," I said. "I
believe. Help me to believe."
And then, with great authority and power, he told the demon
to leave my boy. And that demon did. Praise God, God is able to
give us more than we are able to ask or wish. He commanded the
spirit and it immediately left my boy. And within the hour my
son was every whit whole.
And then his disciples came up: "Why couldn't we cast the
devil out?" they asked. They seemed to be more concerned with
their power and their theology and why they couldn't cast the
demon out...not with my boy at all. The scribes and the teachers
of the law were even worse. I could see it in their faces: no,
they weren't happy at all. They didn't rejoice in the fact that
my boy was healed. I turned and as I walked away, all I could
hear was grumbling, disputings about God's will and the
fine-points of the law.
Suggested topics for study: Sick children in the Bible.
Emotional and physical disability. Demonic activity against
children. The problem of evil. Fasting and Praying.
1. This is yet another story where the sick person is not the one
who asked for healing. Who is the intercessor in this case? Why
couldn't the sick person ask Jesus?
2. Have you ever seen other people's prayers get answered while
yours remain unanswered? What did you think?
3. What did this parent "Believe?" What didn't he believe?
4. What is the difference between going to Jesus directly and
going to his followers? Are there times when it matters? Does
5. What was Jesus's response to the problem?
6. What are the different kinds of fasts mentioned in the Bible?
7. Have you ever lost your faith because of the theological
arguments of those around you?
8. Do you think the scribes were loving to dispute like this with
the parent of a sick child?
9. What do you think the scribes and the followers were disputing
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Outstanding article! The use of the first person perspective makes the point in a very poignant and "human" way. You also write great study questions.