Lectionary readings for today:
46 Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum. 47When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.48Then Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you* see signs and wonders you will not believe.’ 49The official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my little boy dies.’ 50Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. 51As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. 52So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.’ 53The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ So he himself believed, along with his whole household. 54Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee. (John 4:46-54)
We’re back in Cana, John tells us, and so we are expecting something from Jesus. We already know from the first sign that the promised day has arrived (even though John is not done leading us through the full meaning of that).
But this is another day, a day of grasping by a father for one more day with his dying son. We do not know any names but we know that this father was a royal official who chose to make the trip from Capernaum to Cana himself. He was not giving orders; he was begging. The first response from Jesus is not exactly a refusal to help but it does put the father in the position of asking for help a second time. This time Jesus sends him home with a promise of life. And the story goes into great detail to inform us that the hour of Jesus speaking is the hour of the boy’s release from fever.
What is the meaning of this second sign?
I would like to say that if we ask Jesus earnestly enough we will keep our loved ones from death. But we know that is not true. I would like to say that this story urges us to practice persistent petition, not to nag God but to focus us on the one thing that is needed. But it still feels like we have to be in control to get some desired result.
The second sign is that the Word has become flesh. God spoke at creation, and the world and all life came into being. Jesus speaks a word of life to the man, and without any physical presence with Jesus, the child receives new life. John wants us to know that every word that Jesus speaks about eternal life is already taking shape in the world. And while not everything will go according to our plan, we are being invited to be a part of that new shape in our prayers, in our caring relationships, and in our struggles for justice. The second sign sends us home, never to be the same again.
O God, your Son still speaks a healing word, a transforming word, a challenging word, a comforting word—shaping us and your world into a new creation. Help us in our asking, in our listening and in our responding to go forth into this day, believing your promise and showing your love. Amen.