The Healing of the Boy with Seizures —Matthew 17:14-23
The Gospel reading of Matthew 17:14-23 with the theme of curing a boy who had seizures has similar versions of the story in Mark 9:14-29 and Luke 9:37-42. Many English translations of Matthew’s text in Greek, translate the Greek word σεληνιάζομαι (seleniazomai) as epilepsy, but the literal translation of this Greek word is, “to be moonstruck” and some English translations will use the word lunatic as a translation in this passage because it was believed that the disease increased and decreased with the phases of the moon. As such, the use of the word epilepsy as an appropriate English translation of the Greek has been debated by biblical scholars. Matthew further clarifies the boy’s condition by writing that Jesus rebuked the demon and the demon left the boy and he was cured at that hour.
This healing event is written in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke after Jesus had been transfigured into His Divinity on Mt. Tabor (Matt 17:1-11, Mark 9:2-12, Luke 9:28-34) which was witnessed by 3 of His Apostles, Peter, James and John. When they came down from the Mountain, there was a multitude of people and the rest of the Apostles were among them apparently trying to heal the multitude of people while Jesus Christ, Peter, James and John were on Mt. Tabor. The father of the son of the boy with seizures implores the Lord to heal his son because the Apostles could not heal the child. In the passage that is similar to this event in Mark, Mk 9:14-29, Jesus tells the father, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes..” and the father said, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief..” (Mark 9:23-24) and Jesus rebuked the demon and it left the boy as is told in the three Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke.
The disciples spoke with Jesus in private afterwards concerned that they could not heal the boy and Jesus tells them that their failures to heal are due to lack of faith. The Apostles lack of faith is a recurring theme in this section (Matthew 14:16-21; 14:26-27; 14:28-31; 15:16; 15:23; 15:33; 16:5; 16:22; 17:4; 17:10-11). Most biblical scholars have agreed that the “lack of faith” of the disciples emphasizes that their power to heal was not their own, but entirely the Lord’s which was bestowed upon them in Matthew 10:1 (Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16). Because healing is a gift from God, in order to properly heal, the quality of the faith was important to minister to the sick. The quality of their faith is compared to a mustard seed in this scripture. The parable of the mustard seed had already been taught to the Apostles by Jesus (Matthew 13:37, Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18-21) so they would have had an understanding of what the Lord was telling them at this point in time. The smallest seed like a mustard seed – the smallest true faith – can have great effect through the Lord; whereas poor faith has no effect. Their poor faith is further addressed by the Lord when he tells them that this type of healing can only be accomplished with prayer and fasting (Matt 17:21) – which implies that they did not understand up until this time when Jesus spoke with them about it, that active prayer and fasting was necessary to nurture the gift of healing that they had been given by God (Matt 10:1, 8).
This scriptural passage also speaks of the removal of mountains with true faith. The idea of the removal of mountains with faith is given several times both in the Old and New Testament (Isa 40:4; Isa 49:11; Isa 54:10; Matt 21:21-22; Mark 11:23; Luke 17:6; 1Cor 13:2) and refers to overcoming great obstacles by having true faith. Overcoming obstacles with prayer and fasting – true faith – is also echoed in Philippians 4:13 when St. Paul, who was at the time in prison and undergoing many obstacles writes to the Philippians to encourage them to remain steadfast in their faith despite any physical and spiritual obstacles they may be facing. For in Paul’s words to the Philippians, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13) because with God, “all things are possible” for those who believe (Matthew 19:26).
References: The New Testament, Matthew and the Canon, Paul Tarazi; The Gospel of Matthew, Lawrence R. Farley; The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, D.A.Carson; NKJV.