An Epileptic Healed and Paying Taxes: The Gospel Accounts: A Chronological Harmony

An Epileptic Healed and Paying Taxes

An Epileptic Son Healed (Matthew 17:14-21; Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-42)

            Returning from the mountain, Jesus rejoins the rest of his disciples. He finds them surrounded by a crowd in a dispute with Jewish scribes. When the crowd spotted Jesus, they were amazed that the very person they wanted had suddenly appeared, and they rushed toward him to greet him.

            Jesus asked the scribes what was their dispute about and a man from the crowd steps forward with a complaint. His son would have fits that would make him rigid, fall to the ground, and foam at the mouth. He was also unable to hear or speak because of the spirit in him. The man had brought his son to see Jesus, but the disciples attempted to heal the boy on their own and was not able to do so.

            “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me,” Jesus said. The accusation was not just to the disciples who could not cast out the demon, it was also toward the scribes who disputed with the disciples about the healing, and the people in general. If there had been enough faith, they would not have needed to stand around and argue about why they couldn’t heal the boy.

            The boy was brought and immediate has another seizure in front of Jesus and the crowd. Jesus doesn’t heal the boy immediately but continues to talk with the father. The small delay focuses the crowd’s attention on what Jesus is about to do and it also allows time for more people to gather. Jesus wants people to see him heal someone whom many have witnessed that no one else could heal. Jesus asked how long this has been going on and the man confirmed that it has been happening since his son’s childhood. The convulsions have been a danger to the boy, throwing him into the fire or into water. The father then pleads for Jesus to have compassion on them. The problem is not just the boy’s or the father’s. This is a family problem which they both suffer.However, notice the subtle flaw in the father’s statement: “If you can do anything ...” This is not a request made from confidence in Jesus’ ability.

            There are two readings to Jesus’ initial response. Older manuscripts do not have the first “to believe” that appears in the King James and New King James Version. In addition, the “If you are able” in the Greek is written in the neuter form, indicating it is a quote. Therefore, you find most English versions having Jesus quoting the part of the father’s request that is flawed to emphasize what is wrong with the man – his lack of belief.

            Jesus tells him that with belief all things are possible. But he tells the father, “If you can believe.” There was, evidently, still lingering doubt in the man over whether Jesus would be able to heal his son. Jesus is saying he can, but he asks first that the father believe that Jesus is able to do this. The father cried out that he did believe, but fearing that even that belief was not enough pleaded for Jesus to help him in his unbelief. Seeing the crowd swell, Jesus then told the spirit to leave the boy and enter him no longer.

            The spirit cried out, caused the boy to convulse so greatly that on leaving the boy, the people thought the boy had died. It appears the spirit left as ordered, but he wasn’t going to leave nicely. He intended to leave the boy severely damaged, if not dead. But Jesus took him by his hand and lifted him up alive.

            Later in private at a home, the disciples asked Jesus why they were unable to cast out the demon. After all, Jesus had given them the authority to do so, and they had in the past. All Jesus told them was that they didn’t sufficiently believe. A faith the grain of a mustard seed (i.e. very small) could move mountains. We need to remember that Jesus said this in a town at the base of the largest mountain in the Palestine region. This kind of demon required prayer and fasting to cast out. The implication is that there are demons of different levels of strength. Some require greater faith and prayer to remove than others.

A Warning About His Betrayal and Death (Matthew 17:22-23; Mark 9:30-32; Luke 9:43-45)

            Jesus did not linger, but left the crowd marveling over what had happened. As they left, Jesus told his disciples that he would be betrayed. He asked them to hold on to these words because they were important. The disciples, however, did not understand what Jesus meant, but they were afraid to ask him to explain. Even the plainest statements cannot be grasped if what is said is contrary to what you expect.

            Continuing on through Galilee quietly, Jesus told them that he would be betrayed, killed, and then he arise on the third day. Perhaps the disciples hesitated to ask for an explanation given the rebuke Peter received earlier when Jesus said this before (Matthew 16:21-26; Mark 8:31-38; Luke 9:22-26). His words, though, did fill them with sadness. 

Paying the Temple Tax (Matthew 17:24-27)

            Entering Capernaum, the tax collectors approached Peter and asked if his teacher paid the temple tax. Each adult Israelite was expected to pay a half-shekel each time a census was taken for support of the temple and to redeem each individual (Exodus 30:11-16). Unlike other taxes or sacrifices, this particular tax was not prorated based on a person’s income. It wasn’t a large amount, being two silver drachmas or a half-shekel in Jewish coin. A skilled worker usually made a drachma per day. A half-drachma per day was considered a minimum livable wage. By Jesus’ day the tax was collected yearly and there is some debate whether it was considered a required tax or a voluntary tax.

            Though Capernaum was considered to be Jesus’ home town, he had not spent much time in town for quite a few months. It is possible that the Jewish authorities were seeking another occasion to complain against Jesus, or it may have been a routine reminder. In either case, Peter immediately answered that Jesus paid all required taxes.

            When Peter returned to the house they were staying at, the topic of taxes was not brought up, but Jesus used the occasion to teach a greater truth. In a kingdom, kings do not collect taxes from themselves or their own families. Taxes are taken from other people. This particular tax was imposed by God for the purpose of redeeming the people whom God had rescued from Egypt. Being the Son of God, Jesus did not need to be redeemed nor did owe tax to himself. However, to set a proper example and not to cause a opportunity for complaint, Jesus told Peter to go fishing. In the mouth of the first fish he pulls in he will find money sufficient to pay Jesus’ tax as well as his own.

            The method chosen to pay this tax is interesting. Jesus was exempt from the tax, being the Son of God. In a sense, he did not pay the tax in that the money did not come from his own pocket. The tax was paid with “found” money. Yet, simultaneously Jesus told Peter exactly how to find the coin needed and in a method that only God could have supplied. Thus the event served to emphasize the fact that Jesus was deity.

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