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. 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. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. 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. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.
Capernaum was about 17 miles from Cana—not a great distance but still a hike that would take the better part of a day. The passage introduces us only vaguely to a man from Capernaum. He was an official or a “king’s man”, which meant he worked for King Herod. This may have been a source of tension between Jesus and the official. Herod was not particularly popular with the Jews, as we know from John the Baptist’s railing against him for divorcing his wife and then marrying Herodias, his brother’s wife. This should only underscore for us the desperation of the official. He was traveling far to ask for help from a man who might refuse to even talk to him.
It is proper that a man should be anxious for the life of his son, but not all men are good fathers. This man had a soft heart for his son. He traveled far, carrying with him the fear that he might never see his son alive again. He hurried on with only one thought in mind: he must pursue the only hope he had for the life of his child.
Jesus’ first remark to the man seems rather gruff. Perhaps this is because of the man’s relationship to Herod. On the other hand, Jesus seemed blunt with the Samaritan woman, too. In fact, there are a number of occasions in the Gospels where it seems as though Jesus is trying to discourage individuals from aligning with the Kingdom. Perhaps Christians should recognize that Jesus was not a salesperson with a cheesy smile. Perhaps it’s more important to be genuine. Perhaps getting someone “in the door” is not as important as imparting understanding, which leads to deep conviction. Those who want to hear will listen.
Jesus expresses a complaint that he expressed at other times, namely, that people seek to be convinced of spiritual truths by means of signs and wonders. His complaint is a bit peculiar, considering that Jesus provided many signs and wonders that served to authenticate himself. On the other hand, we know that great crowds followed him, but the crowds were fickle and, when push came to shove, the crowds stood shouting to Pilate that they wanted to see Jesus crucified. Even Jesus’ twelve disciples were leg-wobbly when the conniving religious leaders found a way to pin Jesus on a cross. All the miracles they had witnessed were not enough to make them firm. This had been the pattern, as well, with the Israelites when they were delivered through mighty miracles from the clutches of the Egyptians. There is something shocking and convincing about signs and wonders and, yet, humans are quick to forget. We are weak and ever in need of sustenance. What good is it being part of a group of 5000 who were miraculously fed if two weeks later I am again hungry. Something has to take hold at a deeper level. Understanding must take root. Miracles are attention-grabbers but, in the final analysis, a person must recognize the significance of the miracles, not merely be amazed. Jesus must be recognized as the benevolent Savior.
The man was undeterred by Jesus’ complaint, maybe even uninterested. He could think only of his son. He asked Jesus again to save his son. I suspect it pleased Jesus that the official was not interested in the miracle, per se; he single-mindedly sought the healing of his son. Jesus saw the man’s faith and he saw the man’s need. “No, I will not come with you, but it is not necessary for me to do so. Your son will be fine.” The text says the man believed Jesus and so he set off back to Capernaum. This is the third time he demonstrated his faith. He believed enough to travel a long distance to see Jesus; he believed enough to beg Jesus for his help, even when Jesus greeted him testily; and he believed enough to accept Jesus’ word about the good health of his son, so he turned back towards home.
On the return trip the official was met by several of his servants who, no doubt, were filled with gladness that they could bring the good news to their master. (I picture them jockeying with each other to spill details of the boy’s recovery.) The official would have been ecstatic in reaction to the news. At this point the narrative has followed him from a time of despair, to a time of desperation, to a time of humiliation, to a time of hopefulness and, finally, to the time of relief and delight.
The official had not forgotten Jesus, however. He asked the servants about the time when his son had begun to feel better. They were specific that the time had been 1:00 in the afternoon. The official recognized that the change in his son occurred at the same time Jesus had given him assurances. The text tells us again that the man believed. Again, his faith was demonstrated through action. This is the way of faith. True faith is always accompanied by actions that prove the faith.
No doubt, when the official reached home there were many hugs and copious tears from the members of his household. We can be sure he recounted his interaction with Jesus in great detail. Then he proclaimed that his household would join with him in believing in Jesus and in ordering their lives according to his teachings. Did the household dutifully follow the instructions of the head of the household? That would have been a normal response from a household at that time. But the text said the household believed. The radical change in the condition of the boy, and the strong testimony of the father were enough. The household believed. It’s a fair assumption that this would have included the joyful servants who met the official on the road.
John concludes this little story by noting that it was Jesus’ second sign since he had left Judea. John, remember, is very interested in the signs and wonders performed by Jesus, and he highlights them throughout his Gospel. He wants the reader to consider each miracle individually but also to consider them as a package. We see in this miracle that Jesus has power over life and death. We also see that he has knowledge and the capacity to act that are beyond normal human capacity. He saw the boy from miles away, and he acted on the boy from miles away. “Who can do such things?” John asks rhetorically.