“So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill.” (John 4:46-53)
In this story, the Evangelist carefully recorded the faith of the official at three different times, to draw our attention and teach us the nature of faith and how it grows.
Faith through the Gospel fully brings Christ with all his gifts home to each individual. There is only “one faith” (Eph 4:5), which is given not in parts but as a whole to every Christian, whether a child or St. Paul. This faith receives the same grace of God.
Yet the Bible distinguishes between strong and weak faith, between having something and firmly keeping hold of it. For example, Paul singled out Abraham as a man who grew strong in faith (Rom 4:20). Conversely, Jesus frequently chastised His disciples for their weak faith (e.g., Matt 8:26). The difference between strong and weak faith is not whether strong faith receives the gift of salvation while weak faith does not (both receive the same salvation), but whether or not faith is durable enough to withstand the trials of life.
“When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.” (John 4:47)
The official had heard the Gospel that Jesus had compassion for His people and willingly helped every person brought to him. His faith laid hold of that, and was the reason he went to Jesus. The journey from Capernaum to Cana was about 15 miles, which the man himself made while his son was gravely ill. He would not have left his son and made the journey unless he believed that Jesus would help him. The man’s faith was strong enough to believe that if he could bring Jesus into his home, Jesus would heal his son.
“So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” (John 4:48)
The man must have been distraught by the harsh rebuke from Jesus. Although His answer was not absolutely “no,” Jesus at first showed no compassion for the man or his son. The man’s affliction, however, was not without purpose. Jesus dealt severely with him to show him an imperfection in his faith, that it was still weak. The man had faith only in what he could see and experience in the presence of Jesus. Therefore, Jesus exercised his faith to bring it to a stronger level.
“The official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’ ” (John 4:49)
The man confessed belief in Jesus, but admitted his faith was tied to what he might see from the presence of Jesus. If Jesus did not come with him into his home to help his son, he would die. In other words, the man’s faith still grasped only what it could see.
Probably greatest example of the disciples’ weak faith is Thomas, who despite many witnesses said: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25) Jesus knew that if He was going to the Father’s right hand and His Church was to proclaim the kingdom of God to all nations, He would have to give us firm faith in what is not seen. Such a faith does not come all at once.
“Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” (John 4:50)
The Word of God is not a human word, or rather it is a Divine word wrapped in human words. What distinguishes God’s Word from purely human words is that it accomplishes what it says. Therefore, when Jesus said “Go; your son will live,” His Word accomplished two ends: it healed the man’s son; and it raised the man himself to a stronger level of faith: “The man believed the word….”
If we want to know Christ and the grace of God, we must seek Him in His Word. Similarly, if we want to lead someone to Christ, we must lead Him to Christ through His Word. Through the Gospel, God grants to faith all His gifts and promises, including faith itself; it is a faith which does not rely on our senses or subjective feelings.
Faith in the Gospel promises is superior to faith in our feelings, because God’s Word is trustworthy and unchanging, whereas feelings are untrustworthy and subjective. As human beings, it is true that emotions are a gift from God and part of our humanness, which we can enjoy and should not repress. However, emotions have a proper lane, just as faith also has its lane, and our emotions should never cross over into the lane reserved for faith. In the lane of faith we should cling solely to the Gospel.
The Gospel, for example, says: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) God loved the world (which includes you and me) by sending Jesus to die and atone for the sins of the world, and there is nothing our feelings can add or subtract from this objective truth. Moreover, whoever believes in Jesus will not perish but have eternal life. The “whoever” also includes you and me, and, again, there is nothing our feelings can add or subtract from that objective truth. As if that were not clear enough, Jesus expressly desires to save all of us: “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:3)
So despite what our feelings may tell us at any particular time about ourselves or God, we must ignore them when it comes to faith and trust the Gospel alone. The Gospel says that everything required for our salvation has been accomplished for us solely by Christ. We did not earn it; we do not deserve it; and we cannot undue it. All we can do is believe it: God your Father now forgives you all your sins!
“As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.’ The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ And he himself believed, and all his household.”
The Evangelist tells us that the man again believed after he learned that his son had recovered and that the healing occurred at the moment when Jesus said: “Your son will live.” Here the man experienced the further strengthening of faith, which follows suffering, when God comes to our aid and confirms our faith in His Word. This strengthening of faith then prepares us for the future, to believe and fully expect God’s help again when the next trial comes or at the hour of death. Paul, no stranger to suffering, also saw its benefits for faith: “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Rom 5:3-4).
The man’s entire household also believed in Jesus. The man went from a believer in signs to a strong believer in God’s Word. He now had the faith to share the living and active Word with His household, and it accomplished its purpose in them as well. May the Word of Christ dwell richly in each of us, both now and forever. Amen.
[T]hese are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31) Amen.