In possibly the worse Mother’s Day sermon of all time – we told the story of a distraught parent of a dying kid that Jesus didn’t seem to care about.
The problem begins when Jesus goes back to his home territory of Galilee. This passage is one of the few in John’s gospel which takes place in Galilee (the others are the call of Philip and Nathanael (1:43–51), the opening ‘sign’ at Cana in Galilee (2:1–12), and the multiplication of loaves (chapter 6)). Unlike the other gospels, most of the action in this one takes place in Jerusalem. Verses 44–45 may then seem a bit puzzling: it looks as though John is first saying that prophets aren’t honoured in their own country, and then that the Galileans, Jesus’ own countrymen and countrywomen, welcomed him, remembering the things he’d done in Jerusalem. So did they honour him, after all? Yes and no. Verse 48 is the clue. Jesus is anxious that the welcome in Galilee, such as it is, is superficial. They are sitting down to read the clues rather than following them to the treasure. They are taking photographs of the road signs rather than driving where the signs tell them to. They are wanting a Messiah who will perform miracles to order, rather than moving on to the real faith which will grasp Jesus’ hidden identity, the Word dwelling in the flesh. John tells us that this is the second ‘sign’ that Jesus did, and from now on he leaves us to do our own counting. But what was the proper response? Why did Jesus do signs if he didn’t want people to follow him for the wrong reasons? The proper response was the one he got from the official in verses 50 and 53. The man believed the word which Jesus spoke to him. The fact that he set off home, without insisting that Jesus come with him from Cana, up in the hills, to Capernaum, down by the lake, is a clear indication that his faith didn’t happen because he saw miracles, but because he heard Jesus’ word. When the word was confirmed by the actual healing, taking place at the same moment but at a distance, he and his whole family believed. The word Jesus had spoken had become flesh. The distinction between believing because we’ve seen something and believing on the strength of Jesus’ words remains important throughout the gospel. It reaches its final dramatic statement in Jesus’ gentle rebuke to Thomas in 20:29: ‘Have you believed because you’ve seen? Blessed are those who haven’t seen, and yet believe!’ This is the challenge the gospel presents to us today. We are not invited to believe in an abstract idea, or a nebulous feeling, or an indefinable spiritual experience. We are invited to believe in the Word become flesh. But genuine faith is always seeking the Word hidden in the flesh, not using the Word simply as a way of getting at the flesh. As John’s story unfolds, we are again and again reminded that, if on the one hand ‘God loved the world so much’ (3:16), this is not because our life must remain bounded by the present world. When the world is embraced by God in his love, this happens so that we who live in the present world, dark and corrupt as it now is, may learn to love in return the God who has loved us. -N.T. Wright
v.47. Both here and in v. 49, the official begs Jesus to come or come down (same verb in Greek) to his home to heal his son, unlike the centurion of Matthew 8:5–13 and Luke 7:2–10 whose faith in the efficacy of Jesus’ words needs no reassurance from Jesus’ presence or touch, and whose humility frankly acknowledges that his home is not worthy of Jesus. The official in the verses before us sounds as if he is approaching Jesus out of the desperation of need, but with little thought as to who Jesus is. As far as the official is concerned, he has heard that Jesus can perform miracles (v. 45), and such power holds out hope for his son. Not until after the miracle is any faith displayed that goes beyond desperation (v. 53). v.48. These words, addressed to the Galileans at large and not just to the royal official (hence you people in NIV), dominate the account and reinforce the impression that the welcome the Galileans accorded Jesus was fundamentally flawed, based as it was on too great a focus on miraculous signs (v. 45; cf. 2:23–25). Only here in this Gospel is the word ‘wonders’ (teras) used, and even then it is linked with ‘signs’ (cf. notes on 2:11). The sweeping rebuke Jesus offers may also be uttered as an inducement to the official’s faith (unlike the centurion in the parallels cited, whose faith is spontaneous and rich). In John’s Gospel, too much interest in the raw miracles themselves is spiritually dangerous (2:23–25; 6:26). Miracles cannot compel genuine faith (e.g. 11:45–46).216 But the apologetic value of miracles, though often exaggerated, should not be despised: Jesus himself can encourage faith on that basis, especially amongst those too skeptical to trust his word (10:38; 14:11). v49–50. The royal official is not interested in Christology or fulfilled prophecy or even in signs and wonders: he is interested in the well-being of his child (paidion). His urgent prayer for help (including come down: cf. notes on. v. 47) wins the Master’s healing powers. The man accepts Jesus’ word and departs, thus demonstrating that he, unlike most Galileans, is not simply interested in signs and wonders (v. 48). v.51. While he is still on the way, lit. ‘on the way down’ (one inevitably travels ‘down’ to any point on the lakefront of Galilee, since the level of the lake is almost 700 feet below sea level and the surrounding land is much higher), the official runs into his servants who are bearing news of the restoration of his son. v.52–53. The timing of the sudden healing, at the seventh hour (probably reckoning from sunrise–i.e. about 1.00 p.m.: cf. notes on 1:39), only served to strengthen the faith of the basilikos, since that was the time at which Jesus had performed the miracle. Both he and his household believed (thereby setting a paradigm: cf. Acts 10:2; 11:14; 16:15, 31; 18:8). Cf. the response to the first miracle performed in Galilee (2:11). -D.A. Carson