“There was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum … Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe … And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him,” (St John 4: 46).
The miracle that is recounted in this morning’s reading from St. John’s Gospel is similar to the story in the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke. In them the story is just a bit different because the person who comes up to ask Jesus for help is a centurion, a Roman soldier, and it is his servant, who is ill. Not so here. We might wonder why it is that some of these details vary from one Gospel to another. We remember that all of the Gospels began as an oral tradition. It was a spoken word at first, and only later in the century were these things written down according to the different oral traditions. Sometimes the little details do vary. But the essence of the narrative is always the same. It is the power of Jesus healing.
St. John, who wrote his Gospel as the last of the four, wrote it in such a way that it is almost a text of theology. It is an interpretation more than anything else of who Jesus is and what He did. When Jesus works a miracle in John’s Gospel it is always followed by Jesus speaking to the crowd about what He has done and giving the crowd instructions.
In the second chapter of John’s Gospel, we read of the first miracle that Jesus worked at Cana in Galilee. He changed water into wine and we think of this as a marvelous blessing of weddings. When Jesus worked that miracle, He went out and taught someone: Nicodemus. There is the long discourse with Nicodemus about being “born again of water and the Holy Spirit”. In this morning’s Gospel the royal official’s son was ill. Jesus healed the son from a distance. As a matter of fact, we happen to know from John’s Gospel that He was in Cana of Galilee, about fifteen miles south of the city of Capernaum. It is here that the royal official encounters Jesus, asks for a healing for his son, and receives it.
So how do we understand this and interpret it? The key is in what John wrote: Jesus told him, “Return home; your son will live,” The man put his trust in the word Jesus spoke to him and started for home (John 4:50). John was very conscious of the idea of the Word. Remember the prologue to John’s Gospel in the first chapter? ‘In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God. . . The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1: I & 14).
Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. The Word of God, according to John, is always creative. As he wrote those words, John likely had in mind the very first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, and how it begins. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. For John, the fact that Jesus is the Word of God made flesh is the beginning of the new creation, with Christ our Lord.
In the fifth chapter of John’s gospel, it is very evident that Jesus is talking about His Word and about the reaction that should come from His Word. Jesus says this: “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” (John 5:24). Jesus goes on to say: “I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God and they shall live.” (John 5:25).
Hearing the Word means that something happens because of the Word of God. First of all, it is creative: Then God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light (Gen.1:3). He created by the word, something out of nothing. His word also leads to salvation. Remember the Gospel of two weeks ago, where the people let the man sick of the palsy into the house through the roof, laying him at Jesus’ feet and Jesus says, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” (Matt. 9:2) And when they all murmured about that. He said, “Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise and walk?” (Matt. 9:4) He healed the man to show them He had the power with a word to forgive sin. God’s word is not only creative. It leads to salvation. When God speaks, something happens.
On the opposing side of all of this, we can hear what Jesus says about those people who hear the word and then nothing happens. “The Father himself which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time,” (John 5:37). Jesus equates the lack of faith with never hearing the Word of God.
When we consider what words are in our time twenty centuries later, we know that words just tumble over us like a waterfall and sometimes we are so inundated with words that they lose their meaning. They no longer pack the power or the punch. Right now, we hear the words of politicians. What are they to lead us to? Belief and trust in what the person is saying? Mostly, we are rather cynical about what we hear. How about the words of advertisers? Advertisers spend millions of dollars, choosing the right words to describe their product. We hear those words and we trust in them and we bring the product home and it never quite lives up to those glowing promises. Our clothes still don’t smell like new. They aren’t as fresh as new even though we’ve used that particular detergent. But we trusted the words.
What Jesus is saying and what we have to understand is that in order for us to come to faith, we have to hear the words and believe in them. Then something happens. How does Jesus speak His word to us now? He is, of course, the Word of God. He is the Word made flesh. He speaks to us in the words of Scripture. And here we find the truth. These are not campaign slogans or the hyperbole of advertisers. This is the Word of God. We can trust that what we hear from God’s Word is true and right.
In our Epistle reading this morning, Paul is describing a warrior for Christ. He has him putting on all of his equipment:
“Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth” as the belt around your waist; “having on the breastplate of righteousness” as protection for your heart; “your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” to propagate the Gospel of peace; “above all, taking the shield of faith” so you can withstand the fiery dart of the wicked; “take the helmet of salvation” to protect your mind. This equipment is defensive. But there is one more item in that list — “the sword of the Spirit, the word of God”. Paul intends that we go on the offensive with it. To a world that is fed lie after lie, it is only in the Word of God that we can find joy, happiness, peace, contentment, and with a quiet mind (as the collect for today said this morning).
The Word of God, Word made flesh, continues to be present in our midst now; in Scripture, in Sacrament, and in this Church. Today, the Lord will speak to you as well, to each and everyone of you, if you are open to it. He will speak to you in the silence of your heart. Listen to what the Lord has to say to you today in prayer. He has something very special to say to each and every one of you. He speaks His gentle word and it’s creative; it leads to salvation, if we harden not our hearts.
The nobleman put his trust in the word Jesus spoke to him, and he started for home. We can put our trust in the Word and we can start for home as well. But our home, we know, is not here. It’s in heaven!