March 11, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
The gospel for today is John 4:43-54.
After the two days, he left there for Galilee. For Jesus himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his native place. When he came into Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, since they had seen all he had done in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves had gone to the feast. Then he returned to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. Now there was a royal official whose son was ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, who was near death. Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” The royal official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “You may go; your son will live.” The man believed what Jesus said to him and left. While he was on his way back, his slaves met him and told him that his boy would live. He asked them when he began to recover. They told him, “The fever left him yesterday, about one in the afternoon.” The father realized that just at that time Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live,” and he and his whole household came to believe. [Now] this was the second sign Jesus did when he came to Galilee from Judea.
Here we have a royal official of the court of Herod who likely enjoyed both wealth and power. He likely knew what he knew and conformed his beliefs to the temper of the times. Confronted with agonizing helplessness in the face of his son’s imminent death, he was desperate to try anything even traveling twenty miles to find a carpenter from Nazareth who was reported to have healing powers.
It has been those times in my life when my self-confidence and my self-reliance have been proved to be completely useless that I realize I have no power over anything. In those times I have turned to God with a plaintive plea for help, hoping beyond hope that He will hear me and respond in some way. It is a test of my faith.
Dominican priest Albert Nolan in Jesus Before Christianity notes, “[F]or Jesus the almighty power that achieves the impossible can be called faith….Faith is not a magical power….Faith is a radical reorientation of one’s life….Faith is a decision.” That is the faith illustrated by this royal official who had a complete turnabout in his belief, in his acceptance of Jesus as God’s anointed one, in his power to heal. He made a decision to simply take Jesus’ words on faith that his son twenty miles away on his deathbed was somehow saved. His faith was justified not only in the fact that his son’s fever had broken but that it had occurred at the time Jesus gave his promise. He radically reoriented his life in convincing his whole household to believe. He turned from the benefits of loyalty to the status quo to the risks of allegiance to Jesus, to the power of the kingdom to come.
Jesus tells us repeatedly in the gospels that it was faith that healed. In this story it was not faith arising from signs and wonders. Those followed the official’s faithful acceptance of Jesus’ promise. Faith is the decision to change, to work to bring about the kingdom that Jesus promises. It brings about a healing within, or as Paul told us in yesterday’s epistle, it reconciles us to God through Jesus making us a new creation, giving us new life.
The decision to change is a difficult thing for me. First, I have to understand what change encompasses because it is so contrary to life as I know it. This understanding is slowly coming about in reading the gospels, in thinking about Jesus’ teachings, in seeing what the kingdom to come looks like. It’s not a single decision for me; it’s a process of making decisions again and again as I am faced with people and situations that force me to respond differently than I in the past. I wish it were easier. However, I’m so immersed in the secular world that I most often just do as I have always done instead of stopping to think and make the decision to change, to do something that will bring the kingdom of God closer. Unfortunately for me, it’s easiest when I am desperate and realize I can’t rely upon myself, that I have no power over anything. I only have power over the way I respond. I can only change myself, not someone else or some situation. I need to be like the royal official who believed what Jesus told him and then face the world with faith.