Thursday, August 19, 2010

The lunatic son and lunatic Israel

14 And when they were come to the multitude, there came to [Jesus] a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying,
15 Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.
16 And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.
17 Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me. (Matthew 17:14-17)
Verse 17 always puzzled me. I couldn’t figure out why Jesus spoke of the generation as faithless and perverse after the father’s petition to heal his son. Shouldn’t Jesus be talking to the father? Wasn’t the father rather faithless for saying the apostles couldn’t cure his lunatic son? Or was He addressing the disciples, since they didn’t have the faith to heal the man’s lunatic son? (If that was the case, why say “faithless and perverse generation” instead of “faithless and perverse disciples”?)

Today I realized that this is actually another case where Jesus tried to use the event to teach the people the eternal perspective. Jesus spoke the words in verse 17 as if He were Heavenly Father who was having the very same troubles with His children in Israel as the father was having with his lunatic son.

The father had no doubt often commanded and reminded his son to be careful around the fire or water and warned him of the harm he could suffer, but the son seemed to have no faith in those warnings and deliberately disobeyed in the most unreasonable way in spite of the consequences that often happened—many bad burns and near-drownings. Deliberately disobeying like that was very perverse.

In the same way, Heavenly Father had often given commandments to His children designed to keep them safe and many warnings about what would happen if they disobeyed, yet they seemed to have no faith in those commandments and often got themselves into terrible trouble and probably would have been destroyed long ago if Heavenly Father hadn’t delivered them many times. The Old Testament often reads like a case study of lunatic Israel.

When Jesus asked “How long shall I suffer you?” it was as if He put himself in the place of the father who has dealt with a problem for so long that he is thoroughly tired of it and wonders just how long this can possibly go on, wondering how much longer it is possible to stand it. Jesus could also have been wondering how long He’d have to suffer in Gethsemane because of the people’s sins.

“How long shall I be with you?” Just like a father who worries how a wayward child will ever survive when dad is gone, Jesus also worried the same way. Jesus personally wouldn’t be around for very long, and if Israel couldn’t get its act together during that time, Jesus knew it would have great difficulty without Him.

This story shows me that when I deliberately break the commandments, I’m no different from that lunatic son. Breaking the commandments = insanity.

It is interesting that Matthew records the father calling his son “lunatick” instead of “mad,” since “mad” is the more common term for insanity in the scriptures. (The scriptures use “mad” and its variations 25 times, but “lunatick” is only used twice.) The first part of the word “luna” referred to the moon, and it suggests that the strange behavior was associated with the phase of the moon. I’m not trying to say that the moon was influencing the son; rather, it seems this word expressed that the son’s perversity was of a cyclical nature—not daily, but stretched out over a longer period of weeks. Probably he was okay for a while, but then his dangerous behavior would start again, as if he had completely forgot the painful consequences he had experienced the last time he had done it. The dangerous and perverse behavior would run its course and bring its painful consequences, and then the son would come to himself and behave better for a period.. until the next time. I believe this is known today as “binge behavior.”

Seen from this perspective, I’m sure we can all identify with the lunatic son in some way. There are a number of behaviors associated with binge cycles. Some of the extreme ones are pornography, domestic violence, alcohol abuse, and drug abuse, gambling, excessive spending, bulimia, and physical risk taking. But there are seemingly milder binge behaviors as well, such as binge eating, losing one’s temper, excessive shopping, excessive texting and cell phone use, excessive internet use, etcetera. Almost anything can become binge behavior. Binge cycles can become shorter and shorter until they are addictions. Binge cycles, when they are active, manifest sudden bursts of uncontrollable behavior (indicating loss of agency) interspersed with long periods of moderate behavior. It is just as important to conquer them as if they were full addictions.
18 And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.
19 Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?
20 And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
21 Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. (Matthew 17:18-21)
We, like the lunatic son, may have been having the same trouble for a very long time and are probably stuck in a pattern of behavior. In this situation, it is very hard to imagine being able to conquer oneself. But Jesus said, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you, ” which is to say that the smallest particle of faith is enough to move a heaping mountain of bad habit out of our lives. He also acknowledged the difficulty of the problem required some extraordinary measures—“this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” No doubt He was thinking of Isaiah’s words about fasting: “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6)

One of my binge behaviors that I had to conquer was going to bed too late. I used prayer and covenant-making in order to overcome it. (You can read about that in my post “There’s more to covenants than meets the eye” You’ll have to scroll down a significant distance before you get to it though.) While the resolution didn’t involve fasting, it did involve prayer and a mustard seed-sized particle of faith. And since it was successful, I suppose that fasting would have helped that much more.

I also found a website that has free self-evaluative quizzes that you can take to determine whether you have internet, cell phone, gambling, shopping, eating, alcohol, and drug addictions. I found out that I am borderline addicted to the internet, so I will definitely need to do some fasting and praying about that.

With Jesus’s help, let’s overcome our lunacies!


JL said...

Hi Michaela!

This is JL from CITC. I looked for an email address and couldn't find one so I'm leaving this comment for you. Sorry it's not about this lovely post. I'd like to publish your comment with your list of 10 suggestions as a post. But I don't want to do it without your permission.

You can email me:

Thanks again!