(Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honour in his own country.) When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, for they also had been there.
… And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.
“Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”
The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”
Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.”
The man took Jesus at his word and departed. (verses 35-38)
“Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders … you will never believe.”
What’s with this outburst? Why does Jesus so pointedly accuse the people of unbelief? It seems there is an underlying issue of faith running through this whole encounter.
Jesus has just come from the region of the Samaritans. Although outside the circle of Israel, they evidenced sincere, eager faith, joyfully owning Jesus as “the Saviour of the world” (verse 42). Now, Jesus is back in Galilee, part of the broader territory of Israel, and he quotes a proverb about a prophet having no honour in his own country. His statement parallels that of John in this Gospel’s Prologue: “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11).
So, when John tells us that the Galileans “welcomed him”, we wonder if he’s speaking with tongue firmly in cheek. Indeed, when he goes on to tell us they’d “seen all he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast” (verse 45), we remember what he’d already told us about the people at that particular Feast. They “saw the miraculous signs … and believed in his name” (John 2:23), but their “belief” is somewhat suspect, judging from Jesus’ own response to them. John tells us “Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men … he knew what was in a man” (John 2:24-25), which seems to imply the “belief” was really no belief at all.
All of this, then, makes sense of what would otherwise seem like a sudden outburst from Jesus. “Unless you people see miraculous signs … you will never believe” (verse 48). He speaks to the royal official, but the verbs are all in the plural – he’s speaking to the whole broader community. They all seem very interested in miracles, but are they actually willing to fully embrace Jesus? Not so much. Ultimately, they will send him to the cross.
It comes as a surprise, then, that this particular official, hearing Jesus’ outburst and then the declaration about his son’s healing, unreservedly takes “Jesus at his word.” Apparently without hesitating, he returns home. Believing! It’s remarkable. Presumably he, too, had heard the reports of Jesus’ miracles in Jerusalem (or perhaps even been there to see them). He’d come to Cana, desperate to compel Jesus to return with him to Capernaum, to lay miracle-working hands on his son. But now, simply at Jesus’ word, he goes on his way, believing. It’s real faith.
Do I have faith like that? I, who have seen so many of Jesus’ miracles along the way, am I able to simply trust him at his word? Without flinching? Without hesitation? Oh, may it be.
Dear Lord Jesus, you have spoken so many words of promise. Strengthen me to fully receive those words, to confidently continue the journey believing, trusting you will fulfill what you have said.
Reflect: What promise (or promises) have you heard from the Lord through his Word that you are perhaps only tentatively holding? How can you renew belief today? The royal official took the confident step of returning home – what step can you take?