Fire and Water

By Sarah Cornwell

A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 17:14-21

14 When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, 15 and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.” 17 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.” 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”


A man comes to Jesus pleading for the Lord to cure his epileptic son who suffers terribly. And how this boy suffers is not what we might initially expect. He could hit his head, or cut or bruise himself while he is not in control of his body. Yet, the father tells Jesus that the most terrible part is when his son falls into fire and into water. Perhaps this is a sign of the times when there were more open hearths and wells to fall into. Or, perhaps, it says something else.

Could falling into fire and water be a disjointed way for the boy to try and heal himself? In a fit, could part of him be trying to rid himself of this demon by burning it out, and another part of him attempting to soothe his resulting burns with water?

While most of us do not suffer from epilepsy, we might sympathize with the attempt to eradicate some evil within ourselves — thoughts or memories, say — and in that fit do ourselves some harm, throwing ourselves into one kind of fire or another — substances, blame, rage — to burn it all away. In another fit, we may try and undo the harm of the first fit, only to find that we nearly drown. Our self-made cures may do as much if not more damage than the original evil itself.

This is a cautionary tale for those of us with a dark trouble deeply rooted within us. It is also a cautionary tale for those who minister to our fellows who are suffering. As the Church, if our care is not animated by a deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ, it makes us ineffective quacks. Whether we seek a cure for a deep abiding pain or seek to provide one, let us be sure we are relying on the Great Physician for the prescription.

Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have six children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.

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The Diocese of Hong Kong Island (Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui)
St. Martin’s by the Lake Episcopal Church, Minnetonka Beach, Minn.


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