I took up the side drum (or marching drum to the uninitiated) fifteen years ago. There was cute girl in a pipe band I knew (my wife) and I wanted to hang out with her. Having played a drum kit for about fifteen years by that point, I was pretty confident I would be able to pick it up easily. I already knew how to heard sheet music for drummers. I could skip the basics and get right into it.
My instructor rightly humbled my aspirations at the beginning of the very first lesson. We spent the better part of thirty minutes on how to hit the drum with a drumstick. My first take home exercise was to practice a drumroll (something I thought I had previously mastered) at a painfully slow speed. He thought I needed to focus on the basics.
He, of course, was right. Maybe I should have figured things out by that point, but I hadn’t, so there I was practicing a drumroll one stroke at a time.
By this point in Matthew’s gospel, we are starting to think the disciples have caught on, but then comes this verse:
‘”You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?”‘
Jesus comes off pretty harsh here. Speaking to the disciples and crowd (pretty safe to assume not the father), He is frustrated with their lack of faith. Thankfully, rather than crushing someone’s windpipe (“I find your lack of faith disturbing”), he heals the boy. But pay attention to His rebuke.
He calls them ‘unbelieving’ and ‘perverse’. I typically think of ‘unbelieving’ as not vehemently giving mental assent to a truth. But combining it with ‘perverse’ brings in a moral quality. It is backward what they are doing. It is not failing to believe in a vacuum of evidence, it is resisting belief when the past chapters have presented overwhelming evidence, even if you haven’t been up the mountain to witness the transfiguration.
I find it interesting that the gospel writers often set these literal mountaintop experience in stark contrast to the disciples’ failures. It gives hope to a wayward soul, determinedly wandering away like a dumb sheep. And of even greater hope is Jesus’ statement that He came to seek and save the lost.
As we approach Good Friday, it is humbling to remember that a big part of why Jesus came was to rescue us. That in spite of plenty of prophecy, law and miraculous intervention, we don’t need someone to come put the finishing touches of perfection on us, rather we need someone to pull us out of the ditch. For all my wisdom, learning, experience, gentleness towards my family, love for my spouse and care for my elders, I am still perverse.
Lord, every good and perfect gift still comes from you. Help me desire the greater things.