New International Version (NIV)
Jesus Heals a Boy Possessed by an Impure Spirit
14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.
16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.
17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”
19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
Whenever I read a passage like this, I tend to imagine how the story might sound if someone were telling the story today. Instead of saying that the boy was possessed by a spirit, he’d probably be described as having a disorder. From there, phrases like “Everything is possible for one who believes” could be directed towards promoting the power of positive thinking. It seems like we’re reluctant to take things literally anymore and reserve our faith for only the most basic theological ideas.
I like to dwell on the supernatural aspects of passages like this. Apparently the disciples and the teachers of the law thought the child’s problem could just be dealt with naturally, reluctant to acknowledge the real problem and the real solution. Even at the time, Jesus marveled at the “unbelieving generation.” Is our generation much different? We’re probably less likely to acknowledge the spiritual, especially in something as small as a child’s affliction. But the gospel is based in spiritual things. Do we often attribute parts of scripture to symbolism if we find them too difficult to believe? Jesus’ words seem pretty relevant, even to us today: “You unbelieving generation… how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?”
I like the father’s response to Jesus: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”