John 4: 43 – 54 Jesus heals an official’s son
After the two days he left for Galilee.
As it says in John 4: 5 and 40, Jesus had spent two days at Sychar in Samaria and many Samaritans had come to believe that he was the Saviour of the world. Now John picks up the story with Jesus returning to Galilee, the place where he grew up, and where his ministry started.
(Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honour in his own country.)
This is St John using a writer’s technique called ‘foreshadowing’. He’s introducing the idea that there were people who rejected Jesus, so that when we read about conflict and opposition later in the gospel, we aren’t surprised. It’s a device that makes us more inclined to believe the narrative.
When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, for they also had been there.
Notwithstanding Jesus’ words about a prophet having no honour in his own country, at first the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen the signs he had worked. There might have been a feeling that “their boy” had scored some points against the religious hierarchy in Jerusalem.
Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay ill at Capernaum.
The royal official would have worked for Herod Antipas, who was Tetrarch of Galilee throughout Jesus’ ministry. Herod governed the area all around Galilee on behalf of the Romans. He ruled with sensitivity towards the Jews, (for example, his coinage didn’t follow the Roman custom of showing the ruler’s head on one side; instead Herod’s coins had an image of a menorah); and he had some support from the Jewish hierarchy.
When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.
If my child were sick and close to death, I would grasp at any straw to save them. The request made by the court official doesn’t imply any real faith; the man was just doing everything he could think of for his son.
‘Unless you people see signs and wonders,’ Jesus told him, ‘you will never believe.’
This seems like a harsh response; Jesus is casting doubt on the man’s motives.
Maybe it’s because of the difficulties he has had with the religious leaders? John 2: 23 – 25 says, “Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.”
But in those verses, it also says that “He knew what was in each person.” If the man had had faith Jesus would have known, so we need a different explanation. It seems to me that often when God intervenes miraculously it is to teach something to the person seeking a miracle. Jesus’ tough response would have made the official confront the reality of what he was doing. He would have had to ask himself, “Do I really believe this man can heal my son?” Perhaps he looked into Jesus’ eyes and saw the mercy that he craved.
The royal official said, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’
He’s no longer begging. He’s asking in faith.
‘Go,’ Jesus replied, ‘your son will live.’
Just five words that gave the man the hope, the reassurance, that Jesus was in control of the situation.
The man took Jesus at his word and departed.
He didn’t need to question. He didn’t repeat his pleas that Jesus should come with him. He believed what Jesus told him. That is what faith is; trust that Jesus tells the truth, and trust that he has the power to do all things.
While he was still on the way, his servants met him with news that his boy was living. When he enquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, ‘Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.’
Then the father realised that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ So he and his whole household believed.
Jesus had been right to say “Unless you people see signs and wonders you will never believe.’ The miraculous healing was a sign, and the official and his whole household believed. But the step of faith that the official made was actually when he “took Jesus at his word and departed”.
This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee.
What does this story tell us about Jesus? It tells us that he can and does bring physical healing.
Was the healing because Jesus felt compassion for the man? Was it primarily a sign to invoke faith? Are there any circumstances under which he wouldn’t have healed, even if the petitioner had faith?
I am trying to learn how to put the answer to prayer into Jesus’ hands, because he always knows better than I do what is needed. I find it hard, though.
This blog is a step of faith for me. I believe I heard Jesus invite me to draw closer to him; I believe he told me that I need to spend more time with him every day, and because I’m a writer I could use a blog to help me be diligent in prayer and study. This blog has had very few views – some days none at all – and that doesn’t matter. What matters is God’s faithfulness and my obedience.
Thank you for showing your love for us through Jesus. Please help me to be attentive and obedient.
In Jesus name