(Matthew 17:14-21; Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-43)
Likely, when it became day, Jesus and his disciples 0descended from the location where he had been transfigured. Arriving where his other disciples were, he saw a large crowd around them. Certain scribes were disputing with his disciples. Possibly these scribes were trying to discredit Jesus, because of the inability of his disciples to cure a boy in his name.
Jesus’ unexpected arrival appears to have startled the crowd. Seeing Jesus, the people began to run toward him to greet him. In response to his inquiry about their disputing, a man in the crowd spoke up, “Teacher, I brought my son to you; he has a spirit of muteness.” After telling about the boy’s afflictions, the man added, “I brought him to your disciples, but they were unable to cure him.” (Matthew 17:16; Mark 9:14-18; Luke 9:37-40).
Possibly, after first speaking out from the midst of the crowd, the man knelt before Jesus, pleading, “Lord, pity my son, for he is an epileptic [literally, “moonstruck]” (Matthew 17:14, 15; Luke 9:38).
The boy was his only son. He would scream, fall to the ground, and be violently convulsed. Foam would flow from his mouth, and he would grind his teeth and lose his strength. The falls and convulsions would leave him bruised. His seizures, when occurring near an open fire or a body of water, endangered his life, causing him to fall into the fire or the water. Besides suffering from severe epileptic seizures, the boy was deaf and mute (Matthew 17:15; Mark 9:17, 18, 25; Luke 9:38, 39).
Jesus’ response, which was directed to the people (including the scribes), suggests that the inability of his disciples to bring about a cure appears to have been taken as a validation for their unbelief. He addressed them as a faithless or unbelieving and crooked (not upright) generation, asking how much longer he would have to remain with them and to put up with them. Jesus then requested that the boy be brought to him (Matthew 17:17; Mark 9:19; Luke 9:41).
As the father had been speaking to Jesus, some from among the people must have brought his son. Then, in front of Jesus, the boy experienced a severe seizure. He fell to the ground, continued to roll around, and foamed at the mouth (Mark 9:20; Luke 9:42).
In answer to Jesus’ question about how long this had been happening to the boy, the father replied, “From childhood,” adding that he had been repeatedly thrown into fire or water. The father pleaded, “If you can do anything, pity us and help us” (Mark 9:21, 22).
The father’s expression “if you can” revealed a measure of doubt. Therefore, Jesus, in his reply, stressed the need for faith, saying, “If you can? All things are possible to one who believes” (Mark 9:23).
The father attributed his son’s suffering to demon possession, and this is also how the disciples and the people regarded the boy’s affliction. Whether this was the actual cause of epilepsy, the deafness, and muteness cannot be determined. Jesus never spoke about the physical causes of the various ailments and diseases he cured. His expressions accommodated the existing understanding of his contemporaries. There would have been no value in his providing explanations that they could not have comprehended. Therefore, the narratives accurately reflect the prevailing views and do not necessarily identify the actual causes for various ailments and diseases.
Aware of a weakness in his faith and sincerely desiring more faith, coupled with the desperation of wanting his son to be freed from his terrible suffering, the man replied, “I believe; help me with my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
Observing people gathering in greater numbers, Jesus acted quickly, doubtless to avoid even more attention. He commanded the “demon” or the agent responsible for the boy’s suffering to leave and never to afflict him again. Then followed screams from the boy and violent seizures. When the convulsions stopped, he lay motionless, causing observers to conclude that he was dead. Jesus took hold of his hand, raised him, and the boy stood up. Thereafter Jesus presented the healed son to his father (Matthew 17:18; Mark 9:25-27; Luke 9:42). The impressive manifestation of God’s power overwhelmingly amazed all the observers (Luke 9:43).
Later, his disciples asked Jesus privately why they had been unable to drive out the demon. He told them that it was because of their little faith and that only prayer would have accomplished the cure. This suggests that when the disciples did not see immediate results from their efforts to free the boy from his affliction, they gave way to doubt and did not persevere in prayer. They failed to continue to look to their heavenly Father to complete the cure by means of his spirit and so failed to maintain a strong faith (Matthew 17:19, 20; Mark 9:28, 29).
Jesus then said to them that even a little faith, the size of a mustard seed (the smallest seed of the plants the Israelites commonly cultivated), could have moved a mountain or what appeared to be an insurmountable obstacle. With faith, nothing would be impossible for his disciples in the carrying out of their commission (Matthew 17:20).