Today’s gospel reading from John is so simple that it is easy to skip it. Not only is it short but it sounds like other stories we’ve heard. After spending a few days in Samaria, Jesus heads back to his home turf in the area of Galilee. Today’s story takes place in Cana where Jesus turned the water into wine at the wedding banquet.
John doesn’t say what Jesus is doing in Cana only that a royal official from Capernaum comes to see Jesus. His son was at home dying. The royal official with all his prestige and money, had a problem that no amount of money or connections could fix. His son was at the point of death. Desperate times call for desperate measures. The royal official heard about Jesus – about his words and deeds of power. He thought maybe if he asked, no if he begged Jesus would help his son. He finds Jesus and begs for his son’s life.
We parents will do anything for our children – especially when they are sick. It seems as though Jesus is indifferent to this man’s plight. He says, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” (John 4:48) The royal official is not put off by his indifference. The royal official persists. He says, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” (John 4:49) Jesus does not give the man what he wants but he gives him promise – something he can’t even see. Jesus says, “Go; your son will live.” (John 4:50) The royal official has a choice he can give in to despair or he can go home trusting in that promise.
Put yourself in the royal official’s shoes – maybe you’ve been there with your own child or a loved one. Your child is sick – to the point of death. Nothing seems to be working. Everything has been tried. But you hear about this guy – who from all accounts is more than just a prophet but God in human form. He’s in the neighbourhood and you go and beg for help. The words fall from your mouth, your little child whom you love, who you would give your life for is dying, please come, please help. And the only answer you get is indifference. Like a wall of silence from God.
So you beg again. Hoping that he’ll hear your desperation. Hoping that he will come and touch your child. Instead you are given the promise that if you go your son will live. Decision time. Do you go and believe this man’s word or do you give up? Maybe you like the royal official decide to walk the road of faith and walk the many miles to your home again not knowing if that word, that promise is true.
It is a heart wrenching scene. The royal official does not give into despair. He chooses the path of faith. It says, “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. It must have been the longest journey of his life – he probably couldn’t walk fast enough. As he walked his slaves met him and told him his son was alive. When he asked the when his son started to get better they said, “Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.” (John 4:52) The same time Jesus said, “Your son will live.”
God does not always answer us in the ways that we expect. Sometimes that wall of silence is really a promise. Sometimes new life comes in disguises that are hard to recognize. Nadia Bloz-Webber writes in her book Pastrix “New doesn’t always look perfect. …New looks like recovering alcoholics. New looks like reconciliation between family members who don’t actually deserve it. New looks like every time I manage to admit I was wrong and every time I manage not to mention when I’m right. New looks like a fresh start and every act of forgiveness and every moment of letting go of what we thought we couldn’t live without and then living without it anyway. New is the thing we never saw coming—never even hoped for – but ends up being what we needed all along.” (Pastrix p. 177)
The royal official got just that – what he didn’t even know he needed. Not only did his son live, but the royal official and his whole family got a new way of living. He went to see Jesus expecting that he would come and lay hands on his son. Instead he was given a new way of living. Faith is not an answer it is a way of life. It is leaving not knowing whether or not his son will live but taking each step trusting in the promise that God is with us.
It is the same lesson that the disciples learned as they climbed the mountain. Peter, James, John and Jesus climb the winding trail that leads to the top of Mount Tabor not knowing what to expect or where Jesus is taking them. With each step they get increasingly short of breath. Jesus doesn’t seem to mind though. He is on a mission. His footsteps are steady. Jesus never seems to lose his breath or heart.
At the top of the mountain, the disciples look down at the planes below and in the next instant Jesus’ face is shining like the sun and his clothes are dazzling white. It hurts the disciple’s eyes to look at Jesus. They squint to keep the radiant light from blinding them, Moses and Elijah appear and they are talking to Jesus.
Their knees are shaking and hearts are racing. There is fear and wonder at the same time. Peter says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish I will make three dwelling places here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Peter keeps on talking, babbling because he’s nervous. Then a voice says, “This is my Son, the beloved, with him, I am well pleased, listen to him.” Peter, James and John fall to the ground, shaking with fear. After a couple of minutes, Jesus touches their shoulders and says, “Get up and do not be afraid.” Then it all disappears and what remains is the feeling of standing in the presence of God most holy.
A moment spent with the holy and living God changes our lives – we are never the same again. The royal official knew or why else would he have headed home? The disciples knew it or who else could they have followed Jesus each day?
Faith is a daily journey with moments of great faith, periods of doubt and instances where God comes close. We cannot predict the days or times when these things will happen. We can’t always live in the shinning beauty of what happened when Jesus was transfigured. Those holy moments come and go. Faith is found as we climb to the top of the mountain and in the winding road that leads down into the valley. Faith is trusting in the promise of the one who offers new life. Faith is trusting that God is always there to give us what we need. So let’s go trusting, doubting, praying, working, building, knowing that God meets us wherever we are on the way today and every day. Amen