Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Not Getting It the First Time

In John 4:43-54 we read the account of Jesus heading into Galilee, back to the city of Cana.  While there he is approached by an official of Capernaum whose boy is ill to the point of death.  The man asks Jesus to come to his house but instead of going, he did something better.
He simply sends the nobleman on his way, but with the message of hope and healing: "Go … your son lives."  And here suddenly we meet for the first time the word "believe:" "the man believed" "(v. 50).

But the word appears again later, as in conclusion: "And he himself believed" (v. 53).  This was considerably later, however, only after the journey northeast to Capernaum, only after his servants had told him that his son had gotten better precisely in that same hour of utmost need when Jesus spoke His Word.  Then "he himself believed."  In other words, the first "he believed" was not the faith, but rather a juncture on the way.…

This reading is evidence that even faith often comes to precisely those people on the periphery, at the outer limits, and that God's loving miracles often occur not "for the sake of faith," that is, faith that is already present, but rather confront, even wallop, a person so that he or she is shoved or dragged forward to the faith, the saving faith—saving because it received God's saving gifts.
Eric Andrae, sermon on John 4:46-54, Gottesdienst, Vol 20:3

I was struck when this sermon pointed out the timing and scope of the two mentions of the man's faith.  In Jesus' presence, he hears a promise and leaves believing the certainty of what was said.  There was no reason to doubt this man of God would effect a change in is son's condition.  That was good enough: he got what he came for though without a definite time when the son would be healed.

We might expect him to think there would be gradual improvement over a period of time, but when he got close to home the next day, the servants relayed that the son's condition turned around at the hour when Jesus spoke the word.  Now he really believes.  What had been the day before, an acknowledgment that a miracle worker was in their presence, was suddenly turned into believing faith that this Jesus was without doubt sent from God.  He was greater than first thought and could be trusted fully in all matters of life, both here and hereafter.  What began as a request to get someone over the hump of a serious illness became the vehicle for the entire household to be saved.

This pretty well undercuts the entire mantra that miracles only happen to those with greatest faith, which is rampant in the Word of Faith movement.  Yes, the official thought the trip might be worth the trouble, but he was probably grasping for any hope available.  We cannot even say he was a Jew, much less a God-fearing one.

What we have in this account is an example of the Lord extending his mercy upon his creatures to bring them to faith.  God does that regularly, though it is often so subtle we miss it until after the fact.  We overlook the bestowal of his goodness and end up presuming "the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience … meant to lead you to repentance" (Rom 2:4).  Here, though, the end was life, not just for the son who was physically ill, but for the entire house who needed a Savior from sin.

No comments: