Some folks say it is difficult to grow up and go back to your home town… Been there; done that! I love this second verse in our reading today (4:44), which John adds as a parenthetical thought – (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.)
My first full-time ministry after seminary was in my home town (though not in my home church). I built a house about one-half mile from where I grew up and just a stone’s throw from my childhood elementary school. It was immediately across the street from the home where I attended cub scouts, and we even played on the property I would ultimately buy almost 20 years later.
In reflecting on those 11 years in New Jersey, I often make the wry statement that I had more success in my home town of Harmony Township, NJ than Jesus had in his home town of Nazareth, Galilee! But, he was a prophet; and I’m not a prophet or the son of a prophet, and I’ve spent my life serving in non-profit agencies (that is uproariously funny – admit it!).
In today’s passage, we see Jesus returning to Galilee where he is welcomed by the locals. Many of the people had made the journey to Jerusalem for the Passover and had seem him roll heads and tables while cleansing the temple, and they also witnessed some other miracles (2:23).
He was indeed a local boy who was making a splash in the big-time world of Jerusalem and Judea. This sounds good, right? So why the downer tone in the statement of Jesus, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe”?
What did the people believe? Well, they believed he was a miracle worker and healer, perhaps a prophet or specially-empowered great teacher. But did many see him as the Messiah, the fulfillment of Scripture? And very few were tuned in at all to the idea of spiritual life and a savior from sin.
One who really did believe, along with his household, was the man whose son was healed from a desperate, certain death situation. This is written at the conclusion of today’s passage as the second sign performed by Jesus – signs that were in accord with prophesies of the Promised One.
As will become more evident in later chapters, the Jews loved Jesus so long as he was providing for their immediate needs. They loved the bread and miracles, and some dreamed of the political overturn possibilities from such a worker. Yet the larger message of healing from sin and the gift of eternal life seemed shallow as compared to the immediate needs of daily life.
The Jews loved Jesus when he worked for them. And the fact is that many Christians only love Jesus when he is working pragmatically for them as well. There is the expectation that being aligned to Christ through relationship with him should result in ideal life circumstances and freedom from pain and sadness. And yes, there is a new resource in the midst of the inevitable sorrows of life in a sinful world; but Christ’s larger message and greater gift is the forgiveness of sin and the eternal life offered and secured through faith.
Insufficient views of Jesus abound in our generation. The lost of this world do not truly understand him to be the son of God and savior of the world. They fall short by seeing him merely as a great spiritual teacher and moral resource, but they do not understand anything of the issues of the debt of sin being paid by the redemptive work of the Lamb of God. And then Christians too are insufficient in understanding the work of Christ in their lives – that it is not about candy and popcorn and freedom from the pain and sorrows experienced by others. We are not promised a deliverance from all things, but rather that we have one who walks with us through all things and redeems our mortal flesh at the end for a life eternal with him.
Let’s not fall prey to a Galilean sort of “So … Jesus … what’ve ya done for me lately? Eh?” kind of rabbit’s foot faith.
Jesus Heals an Official’s Son (John 4:43-54)
43 After the two days he left for Galilee. 44 (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) 45 When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, for they also had been there.
46 Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47 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.
48 “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”
49 The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”
50 “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.”
The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.”
53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed.
54 This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee.