The Gospel. St. John 4:46
At that time: There was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judea into Galilee, he went unto him: and besought him that he would come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. Then said Jesus unto him: Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. The nobleman saith unto him; Sir, come down ere my child die. Jesus saith unto him: Go thy way, thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way. And as he was going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying: Thy son liveth. Then inquired he of them the hour when he began to amend. And they said unto him: Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him: Thy son liveth; and himself believed, and his whole house. This is again the second miracle that Jesus did, when he was come out of Judea into Galilee.
One of the constant themes that run throughout all four of the Gospels is the lack of faith, the unbelief, displayed by God’s chosen people, the Jews of Israel. Time and again we read about the lawyers, the scribes and the Pharisees who constantly question Jesus; they plot against him and try to trick him into saying or doing something seditious so that they can have him brought up on charges with the civil authorities. They do this in spite of Jesus’ obvious piety and superior knowledge of the Law, and in spite of the wonders and miracles performed right before their eyes.
But there is also a second level of unbelief that gets somewhat less notice from the four Evangelists; the type that demands proof before faith can exist. Or in other words; seeing is believing.
We know from the Gospels that Our Lord’s ministry attracted many hundreds and even thousands at a time. As Jesus journeyed from town to town, no doubt word of him would have gone on before and many people would have been at least curious about this traveling preacher. But it would be fair to ask, “upon what might this curiosity have been based’?
In today’s world we would see billboards , radio and TV ads announcing the coming of some new sensation, complete with the time and location of the event and giving highlights of what we can expect to see and hear. In Christ’s time, this was all done by word of mouth, of course, but the same concept would have held true; Come and see this Jesus of Nazareth, the miracle worker!
To be sure there would have been some mention of what this Jesus was teaching and preaching, and there likely was also some talk about him as being the promised Messiah. But the main attraction would not have been about the doctrine that he taught, but in the wonders that he performed. This is what everyone wanted to see.
They wanted to see these things because they wanted proof. Before they could believe that this man was the promised one, they needed to witness him “in action”; healing the sick, raising the dead, giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. Before they could believe, they needed Jesus to provide evidence that the Power of God was in him.
And quite naturally, the more miracles Jesus performed, the more the people flocked to him; crowding him, marking his every step, even swarming around whatever building he happened to enter, becoming so desperate to receive their own personal miracle that some of them would even go so far as to tear open the roof of a house just to get one of their friends in close to him.
Now we may read of these events and think that these are actually examples of people’s Faith, and to a certain extent, this is true. But the question becomes, was it at all necessary? In other words, did these people really need to be physically touched by Jesus for the miracle to occur?
Well, there are two answers to this question; the first answer is, yes, these miracles needed to happen in the way that they did in order to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah; that he would be known by the signs and wonders he performed. But the second answer is; not necessarily. And this is where true Faith comes in.
True Faith requires no obvious or overt sign from God. It requires no spectacular miracle or wonder to be performed. True Faith requires no more or less than to hear the Word of God, and keep it, even when that Faith is challenged. Which brings us back to the nobleman in today’s Gospel.
The first notable thing about this story is that it is not one of those sanctimonious Pharisees who makes a request of Jesus. It is not one of those self-righteous scribes or pious lawyers. It is not any of those people whom the Jews thought of as being honorable in the eyes of God. No, this was a nobleman, a courtier, someone who was a royal official; a man at least of high social standing, if not particularly popular with the religious folk.
And yet, this nobleman comes to beg a favor of this carpenter from Nazareth? In the normal course of the time, no person of the nobility would ever have left his house to see someone who was little more than a peasant. At best, he would have sent a servant to summon this traveling preacher to come to his house. But instead, the nobleman comes to Jesus, showing the first act of True Faith; humility.
Next, of course, he makes his request of Jesus; my son is dying; please come and heal him. But here the nobleman’s Faith is tested; Jesus, somewhat impatiently, seems to dismiss him saying, “oh, so you need a miracle in order for you to believe”? But the nobleman persists, even to the point of begging; “please come, or my son will die”.
Here now, the nobleman’s Faith is tested even further. Our Lord makes no move to come to the man’s house, nor does he indicate any intention to do so any time soon. No, Jesus, merely says, “go home, your son is well”.
How many of us would have hesitated at this? We would have heard how this Jesus was laying hands on so many people and healing them, but when we ask for the same favor, we are told just to go home? No touching involved? Jesus didn’t even need to be in the same house? Wouldn’t it be understandable if the nobleman had questioned this?
But he doesn’t question or even hesitate. At Jesus words, St. John tells us, the nobleman believes and turns back for home. As Christ speaks, the man instantly knows that these words are true and that his son will be well. This is the second act of True Faith; accepting the Truth of the Word of God.
And so the nobleman sets out for home. But while he is on his way, his servants meet him and give him the joyous news that his son is well! In wonder and delight, the nobleman asks them, “at what time did this happen”? And when they tell him the time, he knows that his sons healing happened at precisely the same moment that Jesus spoke those words to him; “Go thy way, thy son liveth “.
And then, very curiously, we are told that the nobleman believed, and his whole house with him. But, hadn’t we been told earlier that he already believed? So what does it mean now when St. John tells us that the man believed?
It means that the Faith of the nobleman was not to be a “one time” thing. His Faith did not begin and end with the miracle that he had received. He had gotten from Christ what he had asked for, and he was not going to forget about it. His Faith was settled into his heart, and he brought that Faith to everyone else in his household. This then is the third act of True Faith; our Faith must be constant and consistent; in good times, in bad times, and in ordinary times. And further, we must bring that same Faith to others as well.
I’ve said it before; to be a Christian requires a leap of Faith. It requires us to suspend our skepticism and engage our sense of the mystical; to be still, and know that He is God. This does not require an experience of some supernatural phenomenon.
Humility, accepting the Truth of the Word of God, and being constant in our witness of the Faith. These are just three actions or signs of True Faith. And none of them are dependant on the miracles or wonders or spectacular works of God. We do not need to “see to believe”. Like that nobleman, we need to believe so that we may see. And when we do that, we will know the real and greatest miracle of them all. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way.