Summary: Why do bad things happen to good people? If God is a good God, why doesn’t he fix all of the problems in the world? "If only" God would heal me, then I would put my faith in him. What is your relationship based on?
A young woman had become critically ill and her prognosis was grim; she would likely die within the year. Her family had a nominal “Easter and Christmas” commitment to the church, so the discussions in the hospital between this young pastor and the family always ploughed new ground. The woman challenged him – if Jesus healed in the Bible, he should be able to heal me today. If not, what use was he? So she begged and bargained. “If only” God would show mercy, the family urged, they would completely recommit themselves and come to church every Sunday. This earnest young pastor prayed with all his heart. He refused to join the ranks of those who said, “If it is thy will.” It was God’s will that she be healed, he concluded.
Then to his amazement, God healed her—completely. And with the physicians shaking their heads, she was sent home from the hospital. Next Sunday, the entire family was there in the front pew, dressed and sparkling. The young woman gave her testimony, praising God for his goodness. The following Sunday, the family was there again. In four weeks, it was only the woman and her husband. And after that, attendance was sporadic until they dropped into their previous pattern. Before long, the woman rationalised the entire incident. She had experienced the most dramatic sign God could give her: healing, bathed in prayer and surrounded by the church. But after only two months, its power dimmed to nothing.
The passage today gives us a chance to reassess our faith. What it is based upon – the miracle that Jesus has performed in our lives, the lives of others, or miracles that we hope he will perform? Or is it truly based on faith in Jesus himself?
The story in John 4 tells us of a certain “royal official” from Capernaum. John doesn’t tell us his name – perhaps he didn’t need to for his original audience may have known who he was from this title. Much like if I we to say the “Prime Minister” or the “Mayor of the City”, you would know who those individuals are.
In any case, he was a man of stature, of significance in his community, and a man who held influence over important matters. But this particular day his immediate family situation brought him to a place where he was no different from anyone else. This man of dignity and respect behaved the same way that any parent with a sick child would – he went wherever he could to get help.
He had heard about Jesus and the miracles that had been performed by him in Jerusalem. Here was an opportunity for this royal official to get help. We can read into the story that his son was too sick to travel, but perhaps he could convince Jesus to come to Capernaum to see him, and hopefully even heal him. So the desperate father travels the trip of about twenty miles from Capernaum to Cana to see Jesus.
Twenty miles is not a small trip when you have to walk it. It is also an uphill journey from Capernaum on the coast of the Sea of Galilee, west to inland Cana. So it is likely that the father rose early for his trip. We are later told that the son was healed at the seventh hour – or about 1:00pm in the afternoon – so its likely the father left early in the morning to get there. A sign of his determination to do whatever it took to get help for his dying son.
When he arrives in Cana he finds Jesus and begs him to come and heal his son. There is desperation in his actions. Royal Officials do not normally beg carpenters to travel twenty miles to their home. But he knew that there was something different about Jesus and he desperately needed help for his son.
Now it’s normal for us when we need to see a doctor to make an appointment at the surgery or, if we a very sick, request a home visit. Face to face consultation is required for a doctor to give a good diagnosis of the problem. This was the assumption that this royal official made about Jesus. He must need to be present with his boy in order to heal him, so he must come to Capernaum, see his son and heal him. So this man of stature in society gets on his knees and begs Jesus to come and heal his son.
Jesus’ reaction to this man seems almost heartless and cold. Speaking to everyone around him, as well as the man, he says “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders you will never believe.”
But Jesus knows how fickle people can be. We will move heaven and earth to achieve what we want, even if our motives are true such as this desperate father’s attempt to bring healing to his sick boy. Yet, Jesus knows that if healing, or any other miracle is all that we want, then when it’s done nothing else remains. In a sense what Jesus is saying is this “You won’t believe unless you have proof of who I am.” What Jesus offers this royal official, and indeed us, is the opportunity to have faith in him – not proof. It isn’t that Jesus isn’t concerned about the boy. If that were true he wouldn’t have healed him. No, rather Jesus is more concerned with the eternal destiny of this man and his entire family.