What is Jesus saying to us today through this strong statement to his disciples: “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21)? The Bible records Jesus as giving this counsel when referring to the ability to heal a boy who was epileptic, whom his disciples had been unable to heal.
Fasting is commonly thought of as abstaining from eating for a period of time in order to purify one’s thought—to show one’s total devotion to God. Yet in the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy points out a higher sense of fasting where she writes: “Jesus was no ascetic. He did not fast as did the Baptist’s disciples; yet there never lived a man so far removed from appetites and passions as the Nazarene” (p. 53). And, referring specifically to Jesus’ counsel about prayer and fasting, Mrs. Eddy says, “The animus of his saying was: Silence appetites, passion, and all that wars against Spirit and spiritual power” (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 339).
If we view fasting in that sense, it is reasonable to see that fasting must be a fundamental part of all healing work, not just in the healing of a condition such as epilepsy. Surely Jesus’ counsel in the case was not meaning that epilepsy was any severer or more difficult to heal than any of the other afflictions that he so effectively addressed. Jesus taught that each type of affliction is of one origin—that of the belief in evil. As he said elsewhere in the Bible, “If Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? … But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you” (Matthew 12:26, 28). Those words point to one source of all the ills he addressed in his healing work, as well as one powerful healing answer.