In the United States there is a state known as the “show-me” state.
It is very human, when confronted with something difficult, to expect, even to seek proof, for example to be told 2 + 2 = 4 is one thing, to be handed 2 apples and then 2 more, as an unexpected gift, results in the joy both of receiving the gift and having 4 apples!
Suddenly I recall one of my philosophy professors who was the type of personality he would jump in here and ask: “What proof do we have the apples exist?”
When he challenged a student about proof of existence the student flicked his bick, as was an saying from an advertisement and, flame turned up high, approached the professor and challenged him to hold his hand over the flame if he doubted its existence, because his hand would not burn.
Wisely the professor declined!
St. John notes that Jesus was welcomed by the Galileans because they had seen miracles – yet ‘proof’ alone can itself be tricky.
A magician can say they will make a rabbit appear, and the rabbits appears, but this is NOT proof that previously the rabbit did not exist! It was simply cleverly hidden.
Miracles per se do not prove the divinity of Jesus, that He is the Messiah.
Indeed, it is His laying down His life for us which points to the truth He IS our Redeemer and His Holy Resurrection which confirms who He is, and all He reveals to us.
However, some people, even if shown proof, will refuse to accept objective truth, indeed many insist there is no such thing as objective truth.
Canada, where I live, is a winter country and we have had snow in this northern city since the beginning of October.
It is a truth, in the sense of a fact, that some Canadians hate winter.
It is a more widespread fact most enjoy winter: the snow, the sports, the laughter of young and old sliding down a hill on sleds, toboggans, inner tubes, flattened cardboard boxes.
It is also a harsh fact for the homeless winter is an unpleasant and dangerous time.
However, there is another fact: many seasonal workers depend on winter for work, logging, tending to the needs of those who come to the ski hills in the mountains, and yes in the cities: the men and women who run the plows and sanders, the day labours hired by businesses to keep their walks cleared.
A fact is a type of truth.
What Jesus offers is no mere fact, no mere type, Jesus offers the template of truth: Himself!
St. John Paul, along with many other saints and theologians, but with papal wisdom and clarity, addresses the whole matter of truth in his encyclical VERITATIS SPLENDOR [ The Splendour of Truth.]
It is within the orbit of the splendour of truth that we are indeed truly free.
No truth, no freedom.
The clearest, most objective truth of all is that we exist because we are beloved of Love Himself who creates us.
Lamentations in chapter 3 notes: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to and end; they are new every morning……and in Wisdom we note, in chapter 3: Those who trust in Him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with Him in love……
Deeper into his Gospel account – 8:32, St. John notes Jesus telling those who already believe in Him and therefore every human being open to believing in Him: Jesus then said to those Jews who believed in Him, “If you remain in My word, you will truly be My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Even more clearly in 14:6 Jesus leaves no room for doubt, true we can still deny what is revealed but its force remains intact: Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
Continuing meditating upon the current chapter we note St. John inserts another, as it were ‘reminder’ in v.46= Then He returned to Cana in Galilee, where He had made the water wine.
The Evangelist is here restating a salient truth, for he is reminding us of 2:11- Jesus did this as the beginning of His signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed His glory, and His disciples began to believe in Him.
While many contemporary translations of the Gospels use the term “signs”, rather than the term “miracle”, sign in the Gospels always indicate Christ performing a miracle, a sign which points to His divine power and authority over the material universe.
St. John references fewer miracles than the other Evangelists as his focus is more on the teachings of Jesus, given, as we shall see, in detail.
Also of note the Evangelist makes frequent reference to glory, life, hour, the Father and the “I am” statements, declarations of truth, made by Jesus such as in 14:6, noted above.
v.46-47= 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.
Stark are the words of the Evangelist: ‘was near death.’
Who has not, as a parent, sibling, grandparent, or other family member or close friend, neighbour, not experienced the anguish of parents whose child is terminally ill?
In the face of such enormous stress, panic, powerlessness there is nothing a parent would not do to save their child.
We can imagine the haste with which this official sought out Jesus, the hope, perhaps even hope against hope, he had that what he’d heard about Jesus was true and that Jesus would save his son.
v. 48= Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”
Where is the compassionate Jesus, why this apparently harsh rebuke?
First the use of ‘you’ here is the plural, for in His statement to the official Jesus is challenging everyone, you and me too, to examine if our faith is a trust-choice to believe, and therefore is a response to the gift of faith from the Holy Spirit, or a superficial act based only on what we determine as tangible proof.
v. 49= The royal official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”
The official’s instant reply is reminiscent of the reply of the Canaanite woman advocating for her daughter as St. Matthew records [cf. Mt. 15: 21-28].
It is the power of parental love that they skip over, ignore if you will, any reply that does not fulfill the passionate urgency to see their child healed.
Implicit in the official’s instant reply is a statement of true faith.
v. 50= Jesus said to him, “You may go; your son will live.”
How quickly Jesus responds to acts of faith.
However, it is important to keep in mind, when it seems we pray unceasingly with faith and days, perhaps weeks, months, years pass without the answer we want, never to be discouraged for every heartbeat and breath witnesses we are beloved and cared for, and that His answer, while it may not be as instantaneously as we want, or even precisely what we ask for, His answer is always both what is best for us and when it is best for us.
Trusting this truth is a true act of faith.
The man believed what Jesus said to him and left.
When parents in a hospital watch their child be taken out of sight into surgery there are often hours of waiting, with all the attendant uncertainty and anxiety that they will get to see their child brought into the recovery room and be told by the surgeon that all will be well.
Even if we have not had that exact experience, all of us have had some experience where we had to wait, endure the waiting.
Thus, the official, as simple as it may appear as an action, left after Jesus’ assurance.
Every parent knows, we should all know, this action was far from simple, it was a bold act of trust, trust in Jesus and His word, indeed His promise-assurance.
v.51= While he was on his way back, his slaves met him and told him that his boy would live.
It does appear, even though they were enslaved, those who rushed to bring the good news to the official had more than a sense of mere duty towards him and his family. The goodness of the human heart, even when enslaved, or in labour or death camps or prisons, retains the capacity for genuine charity, indeed under such conditions acts of charity are truly heroic.
v. 52-53= 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.
Given that the father was of noble rank his household would have included the very slaves mentioned above, as well as his son and other family members.
This act of the official and his household becoming believers is the greater miracle.
As impressive as external miracles are, the conversion of hearts is, always has and will be, the greater sign of grace in action, Divine Love in action, when through the gift of faith love-grace is responded to and cooperated with.
v.54= This was the second sign Jesus did when he came to Galilee from Judea.