We are continuing through the early part of the Gospel story, and in particular in a section only covered by the book of John. Recently in the story, Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well. Now, in this study, Jesus has returned to Cana in Galilee.
Jesus: Reluctant Healer?
A good historian will try to record and report all of the facts as honestly and completely as possible, and without bias. A common politician will selectively report facts and put their own spin on the details to present themselves and their party in the best possible light. A writer of allegorical fiction simply makes up stories and facts to promote or defend their particular position. Enter the Gospel of John.
John 4:46-54 tells a tale of one of Jesus' early healings. A royal official with a deathly-ill son from Capernaum heard that Jesus had returned to Cana. So this man went to Cana to ask Jesus to heal his son. Jesus tells him that his son is healed. The man heads back to Capernaum. On his way back, the man's servants meet him, and tell him that his son is indeed healed, and that he started getting better at the same time when Jesus had told the man that his son was healed Then the man and his household believed in Jesus.
It is a happy little story, until you consider the details. Which detail shall we start with? How about Jesus' first reply to this man who begged Jesus to save his boy's life? In John 4:48, we read:
"Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders," Jesus told him, "you will never believe." NIVThat is a pregnant statement, if ever there was one.
Jesus' reply to the man begging for Jesus to spare his son's life would seem to indicate that Jesus would rather not have to heal this boy. It is as if Jesus had said “I wish you people would just simply believe that I am the Messiah. Instead, I have to perform miracles to make you believe.” It seems that Jesus did not want to heal this sick boy, or possibly even cure any condition or perform any other miracle.
Clearly from Jesus saying “you people,” this was not just a specific message or opinion about this particular man, but rather the way Jesus felt in general about people. Jesus may have meant specifically the Jews or rather generally all human kind. But it should not be said that Jesus “felt” that way, because Jesus as God is not permitted imperfections, such as believing something which is not true. Instead, Jesus knew this to be true. Jesus knew people needed miracles in order to believe in Him.
If we consider that this passage was written with a purpose as opposed to a recording of an historical event, then the reason for Jesus' reply becomes obvious: John is writing a gentle rebuke to those who want some sort of sign or miracle as proof of the Gospel, as well as to show that Jesus did indeed perform miracles. A contrived work of fiction seems like the most plausible explanation, as this story continues to fall apart under additional scrutiny.
Consider that Jesus' reply says that He is not moved by compassion to heal the dying boy, rather that the healing was out of a need to prove Himself.
Ponder the fact that this man was not trying to test Jesus, but rather was pursuing any possible glimmer of hope to say his dying child.
Wonder how it is that the writer of John would know exactly what the man did after he left Jesus, including conversations that he had, given that no one traveling with Jesus had left to go with this man to report on his son's condition (John 4:50-53).
These thoughts, and a few lessor ones, raise suspicion of this passage. But perhaps the most condemning thought about this passage is that if Jesus (God) knows that we will not believe unless we see signs and miracles, why are we not seeing more signs and miracles today? There is no good answer.
On a side note, the Gospel of John has a rather odd log of recorded miracles. Verse John 4:54 claims that the healing of this man's son was the second miraculous sign Jesus performed. Per John 2:11, the first miracle was when Jesus turned water into wine. However, John 2:23 says that Jesus performed multiple, non-specific miracles during Passover at Jerusalem. John's log then stops. There is no specific enumeration of the third, forth, or forty-eighth miracle which Jesus performs. Weird, huh?