Back in April I posted a blog entry called, “Why are Some People Not Healed?” In it I wrote:
“God does respond to faith (Matt 9:22), but the amount of faith a person has does not have anything to do with whether or not the person is healed, as least not for Christians. No level of faith assures healing.”
In response, someone inquired regarding Jesus’s references to “great faith.” This entry addresses that comment.
The Bible only records two instances when Jesus commends people for their “great faith.” In one story, a Roman centurion asks Jesus to heal his paralyzed servant, who was “suffering terribly” (Matthew 8:6). Jesus asks if he should go to heal him, but the Roman man replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (verses 8-9). Jesus was amazed at the centurion’s response. This is where he mentions his “great faith.” The other story where Jesus speaks of someone’s “great faith” involves a Canaanite woman, whose daughter Jesus heals (Matthew 15:22-28). In both of these stories, Jesus does not say that he decided to heal the person because of the amount of faith they had. Rather, he simply observes their “great faith.”
Why does Jesus say anything about how much faith they had? Biblical scholars agree that the reason Jesus highlights the faith of these people is that Jesus was commending these non-Jewish people (a Roman centurion and a Canaanite Woman) in order to encourage his Jewish audience to have the same faith in him that these Gentiles had and to challenge the common Jewish belief that God’s grace did not extend to the Gentiles. Hence, regarding the Roman centurion, Jesus says explicitly, “I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith” (Matthew 8:10).
As with “great faith,” there are not many times that Jesus ever speaks of a person’s “little faith,” and it was never in connection to healing. Once Jesus said that those who don’t trust God to provide for their basic needs have “little faith” (given that “God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire” (Matthew 6:30). On another occasion, Jesus remarked regarding the disciples’ “little faith” when they were afraid their boat was going to sink during a “furious storm” (Matthew 8:24-26). And many sermons have been preached on the story of Peter walking on the water. When he began to sink, Jesus remarked regarding Peter’s “little faith” (Matthew 14:31). Finally, Jesus observed the “little faith” of the disciples when they were concerned about their lack of bread, even though Jesus had already miraculously provided bread on more than one occasion (Matthew 16:8-10). In each of these stories Jesus worked miracles despite their little faith. God is not limited by your level of faith! Hence, Jesus saved the disciples and calmed the stormy sea, even though they had little faith.
This blog post is an excerpt from a (non-academic) book I am writing on the Holy Spirit and Spirituality, tentatively titled Touched by God.
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 R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 589-91.