There are many times I enjoy a choice… lectionary selection is not one of them. And yet, under the generous heading of ‘Healing Stories,’ the Narrative Lectionary and the good folks at Working Preacher give us two: John 4:46-54 (NRSV, CEB) and John 5:1-18 (NRSV, CEB).
The passage from John 4 has parallels to a story told in Matthew 8:5-10 and Luke 7:1-10. In those cases the official involved is named specifically as a centurion. In this case the community of John sets the scene by naming other details such as Cana (where he had changed the water into wine) as the place and using language that makes clear that Capernaum is someplace other.
There are a few other things of note as well:
- This is the first time Jesus saves a life;
- In verse 48 the ‘you’ is second person plural – unless y’all see signs and wonders you will not believe
- The official holds firm much like the mother of Jesus does in chapter 2
- The official – removed from the Jewish tradition – has faith in Jesus without seeing the signs
- Cana has now seen a miracle that reveals Jesus’ glory and a miracle that reveals his ability to give life. It is a shift from ‘look at what Jesus does’ to ‘look at who Jesus is”
If I were to choose this text alone for Sunday I might go with focusing on the persistence of the royal official. He doesn’t have all of the theology down nor does he understand the signs/wonders and guess what – he doesn’t care. He asks – even demands – from Jesus what he wants.
How often do we undermine our prayers with clarifiers: “Lord, if it be thy will…” Certainly in life and ministry there is room for that. But what about boldly asking for the healing that we want? I can’t find it, but I remember an interview Oprah did with Maya Angelou years ago where she talked about her son being very sick in the hospital. She said that she walked up and down those hallways demanding his healing… and she got it. Soon after that the pastor at the church where I was the youth director at the time had the congregation stand up and pray for an infant in our congregation who was very sick and his prayer demanded healing (and we’re Presbyterian!) and that boy was healed. What does it mean to boldly pray like that?
Some notes from the second passage:
- Jesus asks the man, “Do you want to be made well?” And the response is all about how the man can’t get to the place of healing and Jesus heals him anyway.
- Do you want to be made well? This is a great question to pose to the congregation. I’m quite sure we all have those folks who like their wound – whatever form it may take – and get energy from it rather than actually wanting to be healed.
- Many of us have moved on from the theology of v. 14 (“See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” Do we ignore it? Brush over it? Name it and its inherent dangers? Preach it?
- V. 17 is throwing some gas onto the already burning Pharisee fire. Healing people on the Sabbath will make the religious authorities mad; declaring to be the son of God will get you killed.
- It’s easy to turn on the rule abiders, but if it were not for being strict about what it means to follow their God the Jews would no longer exist. It is basically unheard of for a nation of people to continue to exist once they no longer have land that is their own. Through the dietary restrictions, the keeping of the Sabbath and other law-abiding the Jews managed to maintain themselves as a people against overwhelming odds.
I’m using both texts on Sunday (I told you I couldn’t make a decision) and I think I’m going to head in the direction of the boundaries and barriers we put up in order to make ourselves feel safer. It’s a very human and tribal thing to do, but God calls us to something different, and in order to respond we have to purposefully move to break down those barriers.
The presence of Jesus, the ability to heal in a town far removed from the request, the echoes of the first miracle at Cana, the status of the community of John as exiles from the ‘authentic’ religious community all point towards the proclamation of freedom as Gospel.
Jesus had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with life and being. Jesus calls us into a life of wholeness… how will we respond?
We’d love to hear where you’re heading with the text(s). Please be sure to comment no matter where you are in your week.