Q. I would like to ask about Matthew 17:17 when Jesus healed the demon possessed boy. Jesus seems very frustrated with His disciples lack of faith, but I’m quite taken aback by what He said. How much longer must I be with you? Why must I put up with you? Doesn’t this seem an odd thing for Jesus to say? He knew how long He would have to be there and why He must put up with them, did He not?
A. This same event is recorded in Mark 9:14-28 and Luke 9:37-42. You really have to read all three to get the full meaning. By doing so you’ll notice that when Jesus came down the mountain the disciples were arguing with some teachers of the Law who were there, and that the spirit possessing the boy made him deaf and mute. And finally, when the disciples asked why they couldn’t cast the demon out they were told that the spirit would only come out of the boy by prayer.
Some scholars believe that the reason for the argument is that the Jews had a formal procedure for exorcism that required the evil spirit to identify himself and the officials who were there wanted the disciples to follow the procedure. But since this one had struck the boy deaf and mute, their procedure was rendered ineffective. That’s why Jesus said that only prayer would work. By arguing with the disciples about this, the teachers of the Law had caused them to doubt their abilities. Doubt destroys belief and made the disciples’ attempts ineffective, too.
The message we’re supposed to take away from this event is contained in Mark 9:23. Everything is possible for him who believes. Religious formulas won’t work without belief, and doubt will destroy it, but the one who believes will receive whatever he asks for. (Matt. 21:22) It was their lack of belief that frustrated Jesus then and its ours that does so now.