We often refer to those who are invested in something as having “skin in the game.” This phrase means that these people have put themselves in a risky position, either monetarily or otherwise, and that they now have something to gain/lose. They are not simply spectators, observers, or even “fans;” they have a vested interest, and they will be affected by the outcome, one way or the other.
In Matthew 17 and Mark 9, we see a situation unfolding that involved several different individuals and groups of people. Jesus has taken Peter, James, and John up on top of a mountain to show them something unique and important (they would see Moses and Elijah, and they would hear the voice of God). While Jesus is gone with these 3 disciples, the remaining 9 will unsuccessfully face a challenge to cast out a demon. After failing to do this, they will get involved in a heated argument with some scribes, and there will be a crowd of people who stand around to watch.
Jesus will eventually cast out this demon (which was, admittedly, a particularly “nasty” one), and He will explain to the disciples that it was “because of [their] little faith” (Mt. 17:20) that they were unable to do so.
As we analyze what is happening in this situation, we see several different points of view:
- 1.Peter, James and John are on a “spiritual high,” having just experienced something that few (if any) would ever experience. To be invited on a private, exclusive “retreat” with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah (with special guest: God’s voice!) would most certainly be a highlight in what was to become a jam-packed career in ministry!
- 2.The other 9 disciples are just the opposite, having just experienced a “spiritual low.” Although they had the power to cast out demons (Mk. 3:14-15), they have failed this particular spiritual “test,” (miserably and publicly) and they now face an empowered group of scribes who have probably been waiting for this kind of failure to happen; and they do all of this in front of a crowd.
- 3.Speaking of the crowd, they have no “skin in the game” whatsoever, and they seem to be pulled and directed by whatever is happening around them. If 9 disciples are trying to cast out a demon, they want to watch. If Jesus Himself comes down from the mountain, they run to Him to see what will happen next. When the demon-possessed boy is thrown to the ground, they race to see it. They are spectators, observers, and will probably leave exactly the same way that they came.
- 4.Jesus, meanwhile, has allowed all of this to happen; in fact, He has orchestrated it. He knows exactly what He is doing, and He doubtless has some specific reasons for doing it.
So far, every point of view that we have seen has something in common: none of these people/groups of people really have “skin in the game,” do they? Peter, James, and John are “off the hook,” having just returned from a wonderful, spiritual experience; they aren’t affected by this; they didn’t fail. The 9 disciples, although their pride has probably been wounded, haven’t really lost anything either (with the exception of this argument with the scribes, perhaps). They have cast out demons before, and if they can regain their faith, they’ll do it again. They’ll be fine. The crowd certainly has nothing to gain or lose from this, except for the entertainment value that this scene might provide.
So who DOES have “skin in this game?” Does anyone in this situation really have anything of value to gain/lose? Is this encounter going to have any long-term, lasting effects for anyone, or is this just a “show?”
What about the father of the demon-possessed boy?
This man’s son has been tormented by this demon from “childhood.” (Mk. 9:21) This demon has “seized” him, “thrown [him] down,” made him “rigid,” cast him “into fire, and often into the water,” turned him into an “epileptic,” and basically tried to “destroy him.” (Mt. 17:15; Mk. 9:22)
The “skin” that this father has in this “game” is the burned and scarred skin of his own son. The investment that he has made in this situation is personal, emotional, and lasting. Jesus is his last hope, and the failure that 9 of Jesus’s closest followers just experienced has probably caused him to doubt whether or not this is going to work. He believes, but he still has doubts. (Mk. 9:24)
We learn something about Jesus here: He rewards those with “skin in the game.” He healed this man’s son, and He undoubtedly increased the man’s belief/faith in the process. He probably increased the belief/faith of everyone else who was watching, but no one benefited more than this father.
Do you and I have any “skin in the game” as a follower of Jesus? Has our belief been nothing more than a series of spiritual “highs” and “lows,” or worse: have we simply been part of a “crowd” of people who come and go as they please, wanting nothing more than to see/experience something?
When we bring our messy lives and our imperfect belief to Jesus, believing that He is the one and only hope that we have, we become people who have “skin in the game.” When we put everything on the line and hold nothing back; when we give up on every other option and put our trust completely in Him, we become like this father. We put ourselves in a position where Jesus can/will help us. When we – like the 9 disciples – try to do this on our own, we will fail. When we – like this crowd – simply follow our desires, we will come up short. When we – similar to Peter, James, and John – chase the “spiritual highs” of life, we will be disappointed.
God has set the example for us, putting more “skin in the game” than any of us ever could: the skin of His only Son, Jesus Christ.
Isn’t it time that we got off of the bench, out of the stands, and put some “skin in the game?”