Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent: who is conforming to who?

Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent: who is conforming to who?

Readings: Isaiah 65:17-21; Psalm 29:2,4-6,11-13; John 4:43-54

Today’s Gospel finds Jesus back in Cana, scene of the first miracle of his public ministry. Once more we have a miracle, and once more the dialogue preceding the miracle is troubling at first sight. An official has made the journey from Capernaum to ask Jesus to cure his son who is ill at home. Surely this is an act of faith which merits a more understanding response than Jesus’s seeming rebuke: “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” (John 4:48)? Surely the effort to find Jesus and to ask him to heal his son is sign of the official’s belief? In any event, the official persists in his request and Jesus commands him to leave, telling him that his son will live – words which are, of course, then fulfilled.

Perhaps it says something about me and the blasé attitude which can form in me to ‘another miracle’ that the preparatory dialogue to the miracle is what immediately grabs my attention. Is there, however, some explanation for the harsh initial words? There is a potential clue in the penultimate verse of the passage where we are told that on hearing that the healing of his son occurred at the time of his conversation with Jesus, the official “himself believed and all his household” (John 4:53). Perhaps Jesus sensed a faith in the official that was incomplete, one that was dependent on seeing signs, and not a faith based on Jesus’s word? This is the explanation offered by the Venerable Bede who sees in the passage an allegory of our faith being formed gradually. He suggests that the official’s faith begins with the asking; grows when he believes Jesus’s words and returns home, but only reaches its maturity on hearing the servants’ confirmation that his son is in fact well again.
However, maybe there is another more vital lesson that we might take if the dialogue between Jesus and the official troubles us and we spend our time struggling to understand it. This time is valuable if it turns into a contemplation on who Jesus is and leads to a deepening of our relationship with Him. The danger, though, lies in the mental effort being expended on trying to make Jesus palatable to our sensibilities, seeking to ensure that He fits within our mould of what God should be like. We do well to remember who is made in whose image!
What then do we learn about Jesus from this miracle, what does this sign tell us about the one that performs it? It is the message that we will hear many times from this point on in John’s Gospel, that Jesus is life-giving. Where Jesus is to be found, life is renewed and restored, if only we will have faith. All our words pale in comparison to this healing and life-giving Word of God.

Toby Lees OP

Fr Toby Lees is assistant priest at Our Lady of the Rosary and St Dominic's, London.