Matthew 17:19-20 (NIV) Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.
The disciples were ashamed and dismayed at their inability to cast out this demon, as much as they were by Jesus’ disapproval of them. Jesus had made it look so easy!
Jesus’ answer was as simple as it could get: their faith had been too small. Notice that Jesus didn’t tell them that the faith of the demon-possessed man was too small, or the faith of the man’s father.
Even Jesus’ words to the father in Mark’s capturing of the event (Mark 9:21-24) show that Jesus was talking about His own belief. The man had begged Jesus, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” Jesus’ somewhat indignant response was, “’If you can?’ EVERYTHING is possible for him who believes!” indicating that His own belief was strong enough to meet this need. Regardless of the father’s response, owning the previous failure because of some possible deficiency in his own faith, Jesus did not say, “I can do anything if YOU believe.” His own limitless faith would facilitate the needed miracle.
This is reinforced by His statement to the disciples. He didn’t say, “Don’t worry about it; the father’s lack of faith was the problem.” He told them clearly that it was their own faith that was at the root of their inability to drive out the demon. In fact, He told them that they had not even begun to see what true faith was capable of accomplishing. It could even move mountains! In fact, nothing at all would be impervious to it.
It is important to remember, though, that true faith is not when a person tries to make themselves believe that they can do something, trying to “work up” enough faith. Faith is taking a promise from God or from Jesus and acting on it. Hadn’t Jesus already given them authority to cast out demons? (Matthew 10:1) (ALL demons, not just the easy ones!) Hadn’t He just told them a few days before that the very gates of hell would not be able to stand in the face of the power and authority He had bestowed on them? (Matthew 16:18) They never had to back down from a demon ever again. His word and His authority should be enough to build any amount of faith in them that they would ever need.
Father, I’m glad that the disciples were not in an excuse-making mood that day, so that they just blew off their failure. Instead, their confusion and frustration over their powerlessness drove them to the Lord for answers. And they got their answer, clearly and boldly. Give us that same kind of heart, that never makes excuses when we fail, but always comes to You so that we can continue to learn and to grow. Amen.