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Matt 17:14 ff: A man brings the case of his disturbed son to Jesus, stating he brought the son to Jesus' disciples first, and they couldn't heal him. Jesus responds: “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you?"

I can't tell from the text or the context whether Jesus' response is speaking to the disciples, or to the father of the afflicted son. The last part of that interaction, "Bring him here to Me" doesn't really clarify, because it could either be directed to the father or to the unsuccessful disciples.

I'm inclined to think it's the disciples, particularly since He upbraids them for their lack of faith on this topic later, but the Greek word "διεστραμμένη," translated perverse, perverted, corrupt, seems pretty strong language to use on the disciples. However, it also seems pretty strong language to use to a father seeking help for his son.

Other context notes: Jesus has been speaking to his disciples about going to Jerusalem to be betrayed and executed, and He had just been on the mountain talking to Moses and Elijah, accompanied by Peter, James, and John (thus the emphasis on "How long shall I put up with you;" He KNOWS He doesn't have much time on Earth left). He comes off the mountain, approaches the crowd, and the father comes forth. So, possibly, the father has been dealing with the other nine disciples?

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Who is Jesus speaking to in the first part of Matthew 17:17?

Matthew 17:17 New English Translation (NET Bible)

17 Jesus answered, “You unbelieving and perverse generation! How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I endure you? Bring him here to me.”

The parallel account Mark 9:14-19 (below) gives us more details. It is obvious that the scribes were laughing and ridiculing Jesus disciples for their failure to cure the boy. Just then Jesus arrives. 17 “O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring him here to me.” (NABRE)

Jesus words are addressed generally towards the crowd , but especially directed to the scribes who have been making troubles to his disciples.

In reply Jesus was possibly quoting from Deuteronomy 32:20

Mark 9:14-19 (NET Bible)

The Disciples’ Failure to Heal

14 "When they came to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and experts in the law arguing with them. 15 When the whole crowd saw him, they were amazed and ran at once and greeted him. 16 He asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17 A member of the crowd said to him, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that makes him mute."

18 "Whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they were not able to do so.” 19 He answered them, “You unbelieving generation! How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I endure you? Bring him to me.”

Deuteronomy 32:20 (NET Bible)

20" He said, “I will reject them I will see what will happen to them; for they are a perverse generation, children who show no loyalty."

Deuteronomy 32:5 (NET Bible)

5" His people have been unfaithful to him; they have not acted like his children—this is their sin. They are a perverse and deceitful generation."

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  • I utterly neglected the simple method of consulting parallel versions! How silly of me, I have been too long without serious study, or I would not have missed this basic technique. (I'll not forget again!) I assign myself the grade of D- for research methodology; at least I DID remember to post the question, but that's all that I can find in my defense. – Papa Pat Nov 6 '19 at 17:23
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    @ Papa Pat: Do not fill sorry, we are here to help each other, do this also with all the doubtful scriptures. – Ozzie Ozzie Nov 6 '19 at 17:55
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To understand the text it is necessary to know what Jesus's view about signs and wonders was.

As far as He was concerned, He felt obliged to give bread to the children, so that they would be nourished (in the spiritual sense) and turn away from selfish living to serve God with selfless loyalty. In other words, the miracles He performed were to have the same effect that the miracles God empowered Moses in Exodus 4, to motivate Israel to come out of Egypt, selfish living.

Exodus 4:1Then Moses answered, “What if they refuse to believe me or listen to my voice? For they may say, ‘The LORD has not appeared to you.’” 2And the LORD asked him, “What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” he replied. 3“Throw it on the ground,” said the Lord. So Moses threw it on the ground, and it became a snake, and he ran from it. 4“Stretch out your hand and grab it by the tail,” the LORD said to Moses. So he reached out his hand and caught the snake, and it turned back into a staff in his hand. 5“This is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has appeared to you.”

Now notice the reaction of Jesus to the actual effect it had on Israel:

Exasperation at Israel for treating the miracles as social work, when they were supposed to respond with repentance, and belief in Him as the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, as John the Baptist taught:

John 6:26Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 27“Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.”

Anger at the reluctance to repent, when more than the required proof was shown:

Matthew 11:21Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.

Determination to not let Israel enter rest, through cutting off and relegating to a empty life of wandering in the wilderness, choosing Gentiles to receive the Kingdom instead:

Matthew 16:4"An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah." And He left them and went away.

To answer your question, Jesus is speaking to Israel. Of course the father of the sick child is clueless about Jesus's mission, real needs concerning him more than spiritual, but our loving Saviour is slow to anger, quick to forgive and understands how weak we are, and ministers to the family anyway. Faith does that, even misguided faith. Ask the syro-Phoenician woman, a wild card recipient of bread.

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