The wonder-worker

hand-998957_640We recently had the privilege of watching a very talented young man perform some astonishing card tricks. Many in the audience were watching him like hawks — but to no avail. You couldn’t catch when the “trick” happened, when the card got palmed or slipped into a pocket. You just wanted him to do another trick, and then another, to everyone’s amazement.

Something like that may be the clue to understanding a curious passage in the gospel of John.

As we saw in the previous post, when Jesus returned to Galilee from the Passover festival in Jerusalem, he received what seemed to be a warm welcome. Many of the Galileans had been in Jerusalem and had seen what Jesus had done.

But who did they think they were welcoming? The Samaritans — Samaritans! — had acknowledged Jesus to be “the Savior of the world” (John 4:42). Is that what the Galileans were proclaiming with their welcome? Or was it more like welcoming home the local wonder-worker from the sticks who had made a splash in the big city?

There’s no way to know for certain. But we get a hint of this from John:

He returned to Cana in Galilee where he had turned the water into wine. In Capernaum there was a certain royal official whose son was sick. When he heard that Jesus was coming from Judea to Galilee, he went out to meet him and asked Jesus if he would come and heal his son, for his son was about to die. Jesus said to him, “Unless you see miraculous signs and wonders, you won’t believe.” (John 4:46-48, CEB)

Jesus returns to Cana. John reminds us that this is where Jesus had performed his first miraculous sign, and he is about to perform his second (vs. 54). In John, “signs” are meant to point people to Jesus’ true identity and evoke a response of faith. But it doesn’t always happen that way. Some people refuse to believe without a sign, and even then, believe more in the sign than in the person performing it. We’ll see this again and again in John’s gospel.

A royal official is desperate to find Jesus. He’s probably heard of the miracle in Cana. His son is deathly ill, and believes that Jesus can heal him. That sounds like faith and trust. And if so, then Jesus’ response sounds almost rude: “Unless you see signs and wonders, you won’t believe.”

But the official persists, and begs Jesus to come to his home. This time, Jesus’ response is to tell him to go home — because his son is alive and well. Jesus has already healed him, from a distance, without having seen or touched him. And John, as if to highlight not just the miracle but the official’s response, writes, “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and set out for his home” (vs. 50).

It’s one thing to see a miracle done in front of you and believe.

But it’s another to believe in a miracle you haven’t seen yet, because you trust the person who’s told you it’s already done.

We’ll finish the story in Sunday’s post.