set-up for a sign | John 4.46-47
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.
John 4:46-47 | ESV
Jesus made his way back to Reedtown (Cana) in Galilee – where he made the water, wine. And he tracked him down there – an aristocrat desperately seeking Jesus. He had left his gravely ill son in Capernaum to find Jesus after he heard that Jesus had come back home to Galilee from Judea. And now he found him. He begged him to come down to Capernaum and heal his son who was at the point of death. MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
This is the set up for the second of seven signs narrated by John in this Gospel.
Another Cana encounter.
In an akairos time and place where Jesus is not anticipating much in the way of genuine results, a fresh opportunity finds him, and that opportunity becomes the occasion for the second sign. No poor couple at a wedding this time, no wine bottles running dry. Now it’s a young man’s life running out. Desperate royalty pays a visit to Reedtown. At least, that’s not a bad equivalent for the Greek word used here: basilikos – of or belonging to a king, regal, royal. We could translate it prince or courtier, but then our minds want to go all medieval. Aristocrat at least brings us forward a bit. One of the upper, ruling class. Someone who moves in circles of wealth, power, and influence. In Jesus’ world, there tended to be two classes – those who had wealth and those who didn’t.
And generally they didn’t mix.
This basilikos has wealth, Jesus doesn’t, and the likelihood of him striking up a conversation with someone like Jesus would probably be nil. But now the well-to-do aristocrat is hunting down the homeless rabbi. It’s amazing how desperate need can drive us from the ruts all of society travels so religiously. What astonishing power the severe illness of a child – or our own illness – has to shatter delusions of security and self-sufficiency. We live with such a presumption of self-confidence, self-assurance. James echoes our heart in his letter:
“Come now you that say, ‘Today or tomorrow we’ll go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, make a profit…’ whereas you don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is as a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills we will both live and then do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance, and all such boasting is evil.”
How much more ready to live would we be if we embraced our mortality, our frailty, our complete and utter dependence on forces and factors beyond ourselves.
How blessed we are when our self-reliant arrogance is rudely interrupted by illness, misfortune, or tragedy.
How sad that at such a time our primary interest in Jesus, in Life, in Truth is to find a remedy for our present distress so we can get back to our self-reliant business as usual. Perhaps that’s why Jesus comes across as so off-putting here. You get the feeling he wants to be treated as more than the emergency brake on life’s hardships by showing up in yet another spectacular divine rescue (or unspectacular, we don’t care, just get us out of this!).
What’s remarkable is that Jesus still meets the man – and that he still meets us.
What desperate need have you most recently faced? Where did it lead you?
Lord, give me the grace to embrace the frailty and unpredictable of life, and find you in the midst of uncontrollable waves, rather than merely using you as an escape hatch. And thank you for showing up even when that’s all I do. Through Jesus.