The Healing of a Boy with a Demon (Luke 9:37-43a)

The Healing of a Boy with a Demon

37 On the next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him.

38 There was a man in the crowd who cried out, “Teacher, I beg you, look at my son; he is my only child.

39 For a spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams and it convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it releases him only with difficulty, wearing him out.

40 I begged your disciples to cast it out but they could not.”

41 Jesus said in reply, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you and endure you? Bring your son here.”

42 As he was coming forward, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion; but Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and returned him to his father.

43 And all were astonished by the majesty of God.

O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you and endure you?”  This sounds like some harsh words from our Lord.  After all, the boy’s father just wanted his son cleansed of an unclean spirit.  Why does Jesus have such a seemingly unsympathetic reaction?  If we want to understand why Jesus speaks this way, then we first need to make sure we know what He has said.  To accomplish this we need to dig into the definition of two words: “faith”, and “perverse.”

In our contemporary culture, when we hear the word “perverse” it’s often associated with strange sexual appetites or some kind of deviant behavior.  However, that’s not really a full representation of the word’s true meaning.  Roughly two thousand years ago, when Luke wrote this Gospel, he used the word in its broader context.  Additionally, the translators did what good translators are supposed to do – they translated the words of the text; they didn’t substitute an incorrect word fearing that we would misunderstand “perverse”.  In in its fuller meaning “perverse” describes a willingness, or a determination, to go against what is expected or desired.

Now we look at the word “faith”.  Again, our culture has a diluted definition.  When we hear the word “faith” we tend to think of it as “belief without proof”.  Some even regard faith as a substitute for the intellect.  However, in the biblical context faith is something that changes your life – if your life isn’t changed by your belief, then your faith is lifeless.  St. James said it this way: “faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (see James 2:17).  Now this citation is particularly potent.  St. James was talking about faith without works because he was talking to a Christian community.  However, what about works without faith?  This is something that Jesus (and even St. Paul) encountered routinely.  In fact, works without faith is at the heart of Jesus’ complaint.

As we know, God gave the Israelites the Old Covenant, the Law, which meant they had to live in fidelity with His ordinances, statues, and decrees.  The Law was given to instruct the Israelites so that they could grow in a loving relationship with their God. Sadly, many of them departed from God’s instruction and followed false gods.  Sadder still, after they started following His instruction, most Jews didn’t do soin order to grow in a loving relationship with Him.  Instead they followed the Law with a “checkbox” mentality.  That is, they thought that if they did all the works that the Law required, then they would receive God’s blessing.

The crowd that Jesus encounters represents precisely this kind of Jew.  They are oblivious to the kind of intimate relationship that God desires and they have a “check the box” mentality.  That’s true even of His disciples.  (Recall that when we reflected on The Return of the Twelve and the Feeding of the Five Thousand – Luke 9:10-17, we decided to keep our eye on the Twelve and watch them grow.)

In this sense, Jesus calls them “faithless”.  Furthermore, what’s expected, or desired, of them is that they grow in relationship with their heavenly Father.  But in their “perversity” they are determined to keep pursuing a relationship with God crafted around command-and-compliance concepts rather than following God in love.  For example, they say to themselves “He told us not to work on the Sabbath so we didn’t work; so God has to bless us.”  All the while they are oblivious to the fact that they plotted to take life on the Sabbath – as far as they are concerned, they did no work.  (Recall our reflection of Jesus Healing on the Sabbath – Luke 6:6-11, where the scribes and Pharisees wanted to accuse Him of work on the Sabbath.)

How long will I be with you and endure you?” This is the second half of Jesus’ harsh words.  First, John the Baptist came and preached and prepared the way for Christ.  Next, for more than a little while, Jesus has been preaching the Kingdom of God all over the country. Jesus is kind of saying “when are you guys (especially His disciples) gonna get it? I can’t return to the Father until you have true faith and learn love.”

Our prayerful response should be to ask God for the grace to follow Him in true faith, full of love.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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