How much faith must I have?

By David A. Liapis

Thoughts on Matthew 9: 27-31

The Bible is full of juxtapositions, and the story of the two blind men is certainly one of them. No matter where Jesus was or what he was doing, there were always the Jewish religious elite – Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, etc. – mingled in the crowds acting as the antagonists in the Gospel narratives. While they don’t show up explicitly in this particular story, there are contrasts between them and the blind men that cannot be ignored.

Blindness is used throughout the Bible as metaphor for those who don’t understand the truth of the Gospel, especially the Pharisees (the blind leading the blind – Matthew 15:14). The contrast of this story is that two blind men demonstrate great faith in Jesus as the Messiah, going so far as to follow him an unspecified distance crying out, begging to be healed. Their pleas were not simply, “Heal us, Jesus!” Rather, they begged for mercy from the “Son of David,” which is a phrase used only by the author and an angel up to this point in the Gospel of Matthew. The Jews were awaiting “Mashiach ben David” – the Messiah, Son of David. Though blind, these two men knew and proclaimed to all listening that Jesus was in fact the long-awaited Messiah. Before he healed them, Jesus asked them to confirm their belief that he could do as they hoped. They responded, “Yes, Lord,” and Jesus healed them “according to [their] faith.”

This is another difficult passage to deal with because it seems to place the burden on us to have the requisite amount of faith to believe God can and will do something. So many times when people ask for things – healing in particular – and don’t get it, the common reason for their prayers not being answered they way they want is chalked up to a lack of faith. If you believe faith is internal to and originates with you, then the response is to muster up more faith and try harder. If you believe faith is a gift from God and that he has given each of us a “measure of faith” (Romans 12:3), then response might be to say, “Well, God just needs to give me more faith before I try again.” Let’s be honest. Neither option is very satisfying.

So, what do we do with all the passages, especially in the Gospels, where an action by Jesus seems predicated on the level of faith of the requestor? What do we do when it seems our faith is too little to spur God into action? Do we pray more? Read our Bibles more? Summon up all our positive thoughts? Read about other people whose prayers were miraculously answered?

I don’t have “the” answer. There’s a lot I still don’t understand the whole interplay of prayer, faith and God’s will. There’s an awful lot I don’t know. But…

What I do know is that God gives faith as a gift (Ephesians 2:8, Romans 12:3) and that He can increase my faith by whatever means he sees fit and whenever he deems necessary (and usually by bringing me through hardships and trials that make me rely on him). I know that Jesus raises the dead, who clearly cannot not exercise faith. I know that God cannot be manipulated or coerced into doing anything. I know that Jesus still performed miracles even when faith was admittedly lacking (Mark 9:24 – one of my favorite verses in the Bible). I know that God is loving and good and will act according to his will and for my good (Romans 8:28-30).

Finally, God doesn’t owe me anything – not an answered prayer, not health, not wealth, not prosperity, not faith, and certainly not salvation from my sins. Apart from Christ, I was a totally depraved sinner who daily and even enthusiastically chose rebellion against God. I deserved nothing but eternal punishment. If I start from the position of remembering, “All of us like sheep have gone astray,” and that, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks God,” then the fact there are even moments where I don’t experience suffering proves God is loving and gracious. Moreover, the fact Jesus came to make a way for people who are “dead in trespasses and sins” to be “made alive together with Christ” and have the hope of spending eternity with him should be enough to make all the suffering and pain we could ever experience in this life as nothing compared to what awaits those who trust in Jesus Christ, the Mashiach ben David.

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