37 The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. 38 A man in the crowd called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39 A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. 40 I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.”
41 “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.”
42 Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the impure spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. 43 And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.
While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples, 44 “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.” 45 But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it.
I’m just going to be honest here, but a boy with a deeply distressed and sick man comes to the disciples and then to Jesus begging for them to heal his son. And Jesus responds, “O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?” (Lk 9:41). Doesn’t that seem a little harsh? A bit uncaring? The man is so desperate he is literally on his knees (Mt 17:14) and begging (Gk eboesen from boao which means “bellowing loudly,” same word when used to describe John the Baptist crying out loudly in the desert.).
And if that weren’t strange enough, in the midst of this marveling at all that Jesus did, Jesus tells his disciples privately and with strong words, “Listen carefully” and then tells them he is going to be betrayed? Huh? Right on the heels of this healing?
The best way to clearly understand this context is to look in Mk 9 and Mt 17 where this story also is told. A man comes to the disciples begging to heal his son. They try to pray and deliver the boy from demons but they fail. The “large crowd around them and the teachers of the law” (Mk 9:14) surrounded them like piranhas, arguing with them and taking advantage of their failed deliverance session.
Everyone is thrilled. “All the people” run to Jesus (Mk 9:15).
Jesus asks the crowd what they were arguing with the disciples about.
The man with the demon possessed boy steps up and tells Jesus his son is possessed and would Jesus please deliver his son, because his disciples could not.
It’s here that Jesus says, “O unbelieving and perverse generation.”
Unbelief in Everyone
Clearly there is a lot of unbelief going on.
The unbelief of the disciples:
- Later on privately the disciples ask Jesus why they couldn’t drive the demons out. Jesus tells them, “this kind only comes out by prayer (and fasting)” (Mk 9:24) perhaps implying that the disciples had become self-reliant and not relied on prayer and the power of God.
- In Matthew he also tells them it’s because of their lack of faith: “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Mt 17:20)
The unbelief of the father:
- Jesus asks him how long his boy has been like this and the father tells Jesus, “From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us”(Mk 9:21-22).
- Jesus responds, “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes” (Mk 9:23)
- To which the father immediately exclaims, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24)
The unbelief of the crowds and the teachers of the law:
- By the very nature of their arguing with the disciples there seems to be next to no belief whatsoever.
- Perhaps this is the case of “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign” (Mt 16:4)
A Perverse Generation?
We typically think of “perverse” and associate it with sexual perversion. But perversion has many contexts such as twisted what is good and right into what is untrue.
In Deut 32 the Israelites had been sacrificing to demons and worshipping them. Here God says they are “a perverse generation, children who are unfaithful” (Deut 32:5). This is similar to when the Pharisees and Sadducees were testing Jesus, trying to disprove his every action instead of walking in belief when they clearly say miracles. They go to test Jesus by asking for a “sign” and Jesus responds to them, “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign” (Mt 16:4). Here again “wicked and adulterous” is in a similar vein of “unbelief and perversion.”
It is an easy statement for Jesus to make. The crowds and teachers of the law are acting wickedly and the disciples and the father are acting in unbelief.
Not only that but this crowd is going to kill him. Literally. They are praising God now but very shortly they will turn. This is the nature of “betrayal.” People who once were “friends” but not act wickedly towards the same person they called “friend” and “hero.” It’s perverse in every way.
But why here? Why does Luke clearly connect Jesus’ telling his disciples directly that he will be betrayed “while Jesus was marveling at all that Jesus did” (Lk 9:43).
Do note that it isn’t “right here” that Jesus tells them. Matthew and Mark both tell us that it was after this event while they were in Galilee, but yet still in the glow of marveling at all that Jesus did. So why the connection to this event?
It’s interesting to note that Matthew and Mark clearly included Jesus telling his disciples that he would be killed and raised, but here he just mentions the “betrayal.” Perhaps in some ways it was a consolation and a warning to the disciples. The disciples were licking their wounds from not being able to deliver the boy. And not only that they were attacked by the crowds and the religious leaders. In the same way, while now Jesus was being heralded as a leader, he too would be betrayed by them.
It’s not all clear as to why Jesus connected his very direct declaration of his betrayal with this event, but interestingly enough Luke more than Matthew and Mark emphasizes the most that the disciples didn’t get it. “It was hidden from them” (v. 45) even though Jesus gave an imperative to “Listen carefully to what I am about to say” (Lk 9:44). It’s as if the words of Jesus were strong but the meaning of them was divinely obscured for a season, until after Jesus was to rise.
Perhaps this too was a mercy. Because the little they did understand cause the disciples to be filled with grief (Mt 9:23).
More and more places in Scripture we see Jesus confronting unbelief. Belief and faith are clearly natural and expected while unbelief is unnatural. It takes work to continue in unbelief.
I gather in this text too that doing the work of Jesus means working through the power of Jesus, and that only happens through prayer (and fasting) and faith.
And at the end of the day walking in faith does not guarantee “a good life.” Jesus himself was betrayed, the most painful act that the human heart can endure.
Jesus was right to call that generation and ours “wicked and perverse.” But may we be like that father who immediately exclaimed,
“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
It’s the prayer not of only our own lives, but let it be the prayer of generation.