And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.”
And Jesus answered, ‘O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.’ And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. [Matthew 17:14-18 ESV].
A father’s cry. “Lord, have mercy on my son.” And then, and honest rebuke. “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” Does our Lord have no compassion on the pitiable condition of either the father or the son? Have they done something wrong to receive such a strong rebuke?
Both father and son had done something wrong. They sinned. Perhaps, a better explanation is they could do nothing but sin. Although the ultimate consequence of sin is eternal separation from God there are immediate, short-term effects. For the boy, one such effect was demon-possession. For the father believing at any time, anything other than God is capable of fulfilling his needs. They, and we, are members of a fallen people living our lives in a way and manner which excludes God from His rightful place. Even living under the illusion we are within His expectations when we are not and never have been.
Jesus uses the word “faithless” means the exact opposite of “faith”. Faith always encompasses three elements, belief in God’s truth, trusting His decisions and obeying His commands. Faith involves the whole person, mind, emotions and will. “Twisted,” another word Jesus uses, means perverse, distorted, misshapen, and is the obvious consequence of sin. Every generation is twisted by sin cutting off the flow of God’s provision received through the conduit of faith. Twisted and faithless describes everyone affected by sin, which is everyone except Jesus, the Son of God.
Faithlessness breeds desperation and hopelessness as seen in the father’s distressed request. Like everyone around him he showed no faith. And like everyone alive at that time the son was twisted. Yet, the father was also twisted and the son, no matter his age, was also faithless. They were twisted by sin and taught to not place faith in the ultimate Object of faith. Those standing around were equally faithless and twisted. His disciples, standing with the crowd, unable to do anything, were like all the rest. They had God in their midst and still they twisted their thoughts about Him declaring Him something other than the Great I Am.
Does this sound harsh and merciless? Is my thinking wrong? Should we put aside truth because of circumstance, conveniently forgetting the truth of sin because the obvious effects of sin capture our attention and prick our own wounded spirits? No father or mother should ever have to watch one of their children suffer. No son or daughter should have to suffer. Isn’t this the way we think? How could God be so cruel to allow such hopelessness?
What do we do with God’s word and the charges against us?
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” [Romans 3:10-18 ESV; Psalm 14:1-3 and 53:1-3; 5:9; 140:3; 10:7; 36:1]
What do we do with Jesus’ words “O faithless and twisted generation”?
Peter, James and John had just witnessed something few people throughout history had seen. Moses and Elijah were the only others in recorded history to actually see Jesus, a theophany of God, in His glory. Both men were hidden from the face of God but saw His back or His hand. No sinful person can look upon the face of God and live. This does not mean sinful man could not see the glory of God. Many saw God’s glory in visions and dreams. Peter, James and John saw the momentary metamorphosis of Jesus, into what He truly is.
Then they came down the mountain into the sinful world.
Mark’s Gospel in 9:20-22 gives more detail. Jesus asked how long he had suffered and his father responds from childhood. The demon, recognizing Jesus convulses the boy, throwing him into what appears as an epileptic fit. Again, the father asks if Jesus can do anything. “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” [Mark 9:22 ESV].
Jesus’ response pinpoints the father’s lack of faith, of believing God, trusting Him and obeying His command. “If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes” [Mark 9:23 ESV]. This is another astounding statement directed at everyone within hearing. The word “believe” is the word for having faith. The object of such faith must be God and nothing else. Such faith cannot be corrupted or twisted by sin. The result of such faith is always God’s will, never the will of any man.
Follow the discussion between Jesus and everyone around, everyone involved in the circumstance. The father immediately recognized the war between his faith, “I believe” and that faith twisted by sin, “help my unbelief” [Mark 9:24 ESV]. Jesus, having mercy on both the father and son and all watching commands the demon remove itself from the boy. We know nothing else about the father or boy. We never see them again.
Afterward Jesus’ disciples come to Him and ask why they could not do what He just did. Jesus’ answer confirms their twisted faith. The word used is the same as “faithless.” The ESV is generous in its translation and gives the wrong impression, suggesting they had even a little faith. “Because of your little faith (faithlessness). For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” [Matthew 17:20 ESV]. They did not have little faith. They had no faith.
God’s mercy is not dependent upon our faith, our works or our good standing before Him. His mercy is active love extended to those undeserving of His love. His mercy is given to those who rebel against Him, who fight Him, but who still acknowledge His sovereignty over their lives. His mercy is given to those He has chosen for His reasons and according to His will. Extended to all, His mercy is received by those who cry out “I believe. Help by unbelief.”