John 4:46–54: Jesus Heals an Official’s Son
In this passage Jesus comes to Cana (where he’d previously turned water into wine—see John 2:1–12), and while he’s there an official from Capernaum—likely a Gentile centurion in the Roman army, based on what my commentary is telling me—hears that he’s in the area and comes to see him. (Both Cana and Capernaum are towns in the region of Galilee.) The official’s son is at the point of death, so he wants Jesus to come and heal him.
Initially, however, Jesus doesn’t seem inclined to help:
So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” (verse 48)
The ESV footnote indicates that the “you” in this verse is plural, meaning that Jesus is actually saying, “Unless you the official and all you folks in Cana see signs and wonders…”
The official doesn’t give up, however, and asks Jesus to please come, before his son dies. Jesus still declines to go with the man, however, he tells him that his son will live anyway: Jesus doesn’t need to go, the son will simply get better.
The official takes Jesus at his word and heads home to be with his son. I don’t know how far of a journey it would be to go from Cana to Capernaum—they’re both in Galilee, but it seems like it would take a while for the man to get from one town to the other—but as he’s on his way he’s met by some of his servants who tell him that his son is getting better. The official does the math in his head, and realizes that the time his servants are telling him that his son started to recover is the same time at which Jesus had told him that it would happen—in other words, Jesus told the man “your son will live,” and far, far away the miracle occurred.
As a result, the official and all of his household believe in Jesus, and John makes a point of mentioning that this is the second miracle Jesus performed in Galilee.
In this passage, Jesus heals the son of an official (as mentioned, likely a centurion), but it should be noted that, although similar in many ways, this is a different occurrence than the time Jesus healed the servant of a different centurion, in Matthew 8:5–13 and Luke 7:1–10.
So let’s look at this centurion’s story…
The passage makes a point of mentioning the fact that Cana is where Jesus had turned water into wine, which was his first miracle. I’m thinking that ever since Jesus came back to the area this time people have probably been pestering him for more miracles, which is a common occurrence in the Gospels:
- Jesus performs a miracle, serving as proof that he is who he says he is
- The people are blown away by the miracle
- Jesus attempts to teach them and get them to understand what he’s really here to do, but
- The people don’t listen, they just want to see more miracles
Mixed in with these people, however, are people like the official in this story: people who are desperate for Jesus’ help because they (or someone close to them) are suffering. They’re also coming to Jesus for the wrong reasons—hearing his message and believing in him are more important even than being healed—but Jesus has more patience and empathy for them than for the ones who just want to see miracles; Jesus doesn’t seem to have a lot of patience for people who want to see proof after proof after proof that he has any kind of right to tell them how to live their lives, to the point that no proof will ever be good enough for them.
One thing that seems to set this official apart from the Jews in Cana who (I assume) are demanding signs from Jesus is that he simply takes Jesus at his word—he said my son will be healed, so I believe that my son will be healed—and goes home. He doesn’t demand that Jesus perform a complex ceremony over his son, or make a spectacle of the event; he just wants his son to be healed, and that’s what Jesus does.
As is so often the case, however, whatever the man’s original motives for coming to Jesus, he comes to believe in him, along with the rest of his household.
And it’s interesting to me that, as mentioned above, there are two instances where Gentile centurions: 1) come to Jesus asking for a miracle; 2) are told that it’s taking place long distance; and 3) simply take him at his word. In the other story of the other centurion Jesus notes that this is a level of faith he’s not even seeing among his fellow Jews, yet somehow these Gentiles have such faith in him that they don’t need to see him doing anything, he simply tells them that the healing is happening and it’s good enough for them.