The Gospel for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost presents our Lord returning to the valley after being on Mt. Tabor with Peter, James and John. We find the other nine Apostles embroiled in a “conversation” with a man who probably came for Jesus to heal his son, but since the Lord wasn’t with the nine, the man used the only resource available.
And, it wasn’t enough!
It’s not as if the man has NO faith. St. Matthew records that he came before the Lord and knelt down before Him, addressing Jesus as “Lord”. Certainly there must be some level of faith in the man. He believed enough to bring his son. He believed enough to TRY to acquire his desired healing through the nine Apostles, and he believed enough to address the Lord with a proper title.
So, where did he fail?
In so very many instances, when people have come to the Lord seeking His healing, they have not only exhibited faith, but they’ve backed it up—our Lord says to them clearly, “Be it done to you according to your faith.” Jesus says it to the centurion who seeks healing for his servant (Mat 8:13). He says it to the woman with the issue of blood (Mat 9:22), and later to the two blind men (Mat 9:29) Clearly, Jesus is indicated to those around Him (and through them, to us) that our own faith is essential to our being granted the healing (spiritual or physical) that we seek.
The father of the boy fails because, even though he outwardly ascribes honor to the Lord, inwardly his faith is NOT sufficient, for if it were, the Holy Fathers teach that HIS faith could have enabled the Apostles to heal.
Instead, the man ascribes blame to the Apostles. “I brought (my son) to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.” Inside of this statement are TWO measures of blame. First, THEY (the Apostles) should have been able to help. Second, if YOU (Jesus) picked better men, they could have helped.
It is from this encounter that one of my own favorite “spontaneous prayers” in Scripture is found. Within the parallel account in the Gospel of St. Mark, the boy’s father is speaking with the Lord, and Jesus says to the man, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” To this, the man responds, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!” The words have engendered similar prayerful words from many, including the Prayer of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, whose prayer ends with these words: “Direct my will. Teach me to pray. Pray Yourself within me!”
Where’s the aforementioned “But....”?
All of our focus has been on faith. BUT, Jesus tosses in another requirement. When He explains to the Apostles WHY they were unable to help the boy (for they had clearly done similar things through the authority Jesus had given them), Jesus says, “This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”
Faith is essential. BUT, faith is necessary, yet not sufficient. It takes more. One can do a lot of things with just a hammer. BUT, one can’t build a building without a hammer AND a saw AND a plane, AND a nail AND…
Prayer is that which places us in the presence of God. Fasting is that which places our soul above our body. Prayer AND fasting elevates our spirits to that place where our faith can express our needs with the greatest fervor and clarity. And there’s no BUT’s about that!