The power of faith.
Mark 9, 14 – 29.
According to the reports of Matthew and Luke, when Jesus exclaimed “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you and bear with you?” in response to the father’s complaint that the disciples were unable to heal his son, it seems certain that this accusation was directed towards the disciples because they had shown themselves to be weak and inept in the absence of their master. However, in the account of Mark, the matter is not so certain. While some significant manuscripts read “Jesus said to them”, others omit any further specification and thus attempt to cast doubt on the reading “Jesus said to him” (the father of the boy). This decision is inconclusive, as the latter reading may be difficult, and the view of Matthew and Luke may have been imposed by later readings of the original gospel. But when we see how Jesus accuses the father of the sick boy of lacking faith in the following passage, when he makes a bitter accusation that everything is possible for the believer, and the man tearfully declares “I believe, Lord; help my unbelief!” it seems certain that this accusation is directed towards the father of the boy and is based on the assumption that – how shall we express this enormous and most fearful transcendence? – that a person in faith can move mountains and cast them into the sea, so the father could have healed his son from the outset.
Calvin notes that Jesus usually treats people kindly, even when they make a somewhat inconvenient request, but this time the man, who was pained by his son’s illness, asked for help modestly and humbly. But why should an evangelist not be harsh, cruelly transcendent and exuberant at times, especially when this harsh exuberance is rooted in the nature of faith?
In short, it is highly probable that the Fourth understood this passage of the Gospel correctly when he borrowed from it (C. 4, 48) the phrase that the father of a sick son was harshly approached by Jesus, whom he asked for help.
Only afterwards, when the company had returned home, does Mark allow the disciples to come forward so that they too can learn what they had been lacking. They ask Jesus why they were unable to drive out the demon, and now they learn – as the congregation later understood the matter and believed they had to fight against the devil – that this kind can only be driven out by prayer and fasting. Luke left out this section because he wanted to report shortly afterwards how the Seventy simply drove out the evil spirits in the name of Jesus. Matthew, however, keeps the question of the disciples, only allowing it to be raised off the battlefield, and enriches Jesus’ answer with a saying that was delivered after the withering of the fig tree. Luke had taken this saying about faith that moves mountains out of its context, particularly by introducing it with the clumsy request of the disciples: “Lord, give us more faith” like a lightning bolt falling from a blue sky, and, to reveal to us where he got this saying from, turning the mountain into a mulberry-fig tree. Matthew takes the saying out of its isolated position in Luke, turns the tree back into its original form, the mountain, but does not feel prevented from putting the same saying into Jesus’ mouth again when he finds it in Mark’s scripture.
Of course, it is a contradiction when the Lord, in one breath, demands faith and fasting and prayer as the basic condition for one and the same work, but the same contradiction is already contained in the original report, when the Lord, before the conversation with the disciples, recommended faith to the father of the sick man, as if he could have cured the sickness of his son through it. Matthew only drew this contradiction closer together and very rightly seized upon it when he lifted that isolated saying out of Luke’s writing, for Luke had taken the disciples’ request: give us faith! (C. 17, 6) to the speech of that man: Lord, I believe, help my unbelief! Thus, in Matthew’s writing, all the elements that belong together have been reunited.
It has been wondered why the Fourth Gospel says nothing about demons that Jesus had cast out, nothing about this struggle with the kingdom of the devil. Some critics thought that he did not want to know about these associates of the devil because of his supposedly greater education, while others thought that he had simply not known about the exorcisms. We can now answer: he had read the Gospel of Mark and therefore said nothing about that struggle with the kingdom of Satan, because he allowed the Lord to fight against Satan and his evil in a different, more comprehensive, or rather more abstract way, perhaps also because he felt the role that demons played in the original gospel. In his writing, which has entirely different messengers of the Messiah and in which the Lord preaches about himself from the beginning, demons were superfluous as these corner preachers and betrayers of the secret. Under these circumstances, it is also understandable that the accusation that Jesus had the devil, if the Fourth Gospel still made it (Ch. 7, 20; 8, 48), had to be rather incorrectly or very weakly made. We have demonstrated in the criticism of the Fourth Gospel what this reversal and weakening consists of.
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