Christ returns from Mount Tabor where the Transfiguration has taken place in order to continue his ministry. He finds that not all has gone well in his absence.
The disciples who have been left behind have been commissioned with Jesus’ power and authority; they are frustrated by their failure. But Jesus continues to be with them and he has the power to continue to heal despite their failure. When hoped for miracles fail the problem must not be our lack of faith and that if we simply had enough faith we could avert all tragedies and heal all afflictions. Nor can we infer that faith in itself is a power that accomplishes miracles. It is God who acts not an attitude called faith. This is not a story about the power of faith, but about the power of God. Faith, in Matthew, is always not a quality of the one praying but a relationship of practical trust with the one to whom prayer is offered.
Matthew’s comment about “little faith” is directed toward his disciples. They are unable to heal because of their little faith. But even a little faith is power enough. Matthew is here dealing with the disciples. His unenthusiastic portrait of Jesus’ disciples figured in the controversy with the non-Christian Jewish leaders. The defection of the disciples, the betrayal by Judas and the denial by Peter were all solid parts of the Christian tradition. Matthew never denied these embarrassing facts. However, Matthew tones things down and places before us a picture of earnest but fallible people who as Jesus’ first followers had their failures. These same people’s attitude before Jesus was “little faith.”
The weakness of Jesus’ first companions has been a source of encouragement for fallible Christians throughout the centuries. The reminder of what a little faith can achieve is a great consolation. Praying faith is also instruction to us on the proper attitude toward Jesus in prayer.
Fr Brian Kelty