We see in the holy Gospel an official, or nobleman, who was from Capernaum. Apparently, Capernaum was close to Cana, where Jesus was staying for a second visit. The first visit was on the occasion of a marriage and Christís first miracle, turning water into wine.
Now the officialís son was very sick, at the point of death. So he went to Christ to ask that He come heal his son.
Now this was still early in Christís ministry. The nobleman probably heard that Christ was a miracle worker. Perhaps he witnessed the miracle at Cana. This seems likely since Saint John pointedly mentions the miracle in the context of the officialís story. Why mention it unless it has something to do with the official? But we cannot be certain. At the very least, he heard that Christ was a worker of miracles.
So the nobleman had some reason to believe that Christ could heal his son. He came to our Lord for an excellent reason, namely, that he loved his son and did not want him to die. For this we can rightly praise the love and concern of this father, especially in light of the many selfish, deadbeat dads that plague our nation these days. May we also be compassionate, whatever our station in life.
But notice how the official asked for help. He said, ďCome down and heal my son, for he is at the point of death.Ē These words, while commending the love of the man for his son, also show that he had limits for how much he believed Christ could do. He is asked to come down to perform the healing, even though Christ did not need to go anywhere to heal anyone. He is the all-powerful Son of God. He could say the word at any point in heaven or earth, and the manís son would be healed. But the official did not understand this.
In a quite similar story, a Centurion, who also happened to live in Capernaum, had a sick slave at the point of death. But the Centurion did not demand that Christ come down to heal the slave, even though Christ was in Capernaum at the time so that it was an even closer trip. But the Centurion said, ďLord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy to have You come under my roof. But say the word, and let my servant be healed.Ē This man was commended by Christ for his great faith.
The official in the Holy Gospel did not have so strong a faith. As further evidence of this, his sonís imminent death seemed to fill the man with urgency. He said, ďCome down before my child dies.Ē So the man appears to not realize that Christ could not only heal his son at that exact moment with a word from His mouth, but He could also raise the son from the dead. So the panic in the man was not warranted.
In the same way we may act panicky, as if Christ is not Lord over both life and death. May our faith be stronger as well, by Godís grace.
Either the man had a mere surface knowledge of Christ that had no trusting faith, or he had a weak faith. Either way, he needed more and stronger faith.
True faith comes from hearing the Word of Christ. We see the nobleman believe Christís Word when He promised healing. He believed the Word and went on his way. He suddenly believed that Christ can heal at a distance. More than that, he trusted Christís promise. That is a strong sign of faith, and the essence of faith, which trusts that God is trustworthy. He will not break His promises. What He says will come about. So the man went, expecting the miracle to happen.
We also have the same external Word. We do not receive that Word directly from Christ, as the nobleman did. Instead we receive it through a man. Our challenge as Christians is to receive the Word we hear as the Word of Christ, not the word of a man, and a sinner at that. We are to see the Word as Godís promise to us that He will not break. Holding onto it with faith, we are holding not to the frail man in the pulpit, but to Christ the Lord and to His Father.
The official perhaps was tempted to think, ďOkay, this guy works miracles, but look at Him Ė dusty from the road, unimpressive, no visible halo. Is this the guy I should trust when He wonít even come to my home?Ē But the man instead believes in Christ and His Word. His faith is no less than a miracle, and happens because the Spirit worked through the Word to nurture faith in the human heart. That is the way it always happens.
After God sends His Word to give and sustain faith, He then also sends hardships to strengthen faith. The nobleman was driven to seek help from Christ, rather than sit on his own and let whatever spark of faith he might have had dwindle, flicker, and go out. God in His mercy does not leave us to our own devices. Instead He cultivates us as a farmer might cultivate a weak and struggling plant.
This is the problem, that the cultivation of our faith includes hardship. A sick child troubled the official. Many different tribulations afflict us in this life. God sends them so that we will not grow lazy and complacent in faith, but instead be forced to cling to our heavenly Father with ever stronger faith.
When trouble pounces upon us, we seek Christ in prayer. Now, we should understand that prayer in itself does not strengthen faith. Prayer is the asking, not the receiving. Prayer is our action. Our works, even if commanded by God, do not create or sustain faith. But prayer is commanded by the Lord for the specific reason that He wants us to be strengthened in answer to our prayer. He wants us to see Him as the giver of every gift, including our faith. If we think our own efforts build our faith, heaven forbid, then we grow in self-righteousness and pride. But He wants us to be humble children who trust their Father and seek Him in every trouble.
When we pray, there is a conversation. We do not audibly hear Godís side of the conversation, only ours. Yet we want His answer. That is what we are seeking. Who would ask a question of someone, but then plug up their ears and refuse to listen to the answer? But the clear voice of God is in His Word that He speaks in His Divine Liturgy to us. If we avoid this voice, but think that we are faithful, woe to us! If we only pray but do not listen to the Word, then we will either become bitter towards God at our hardships since we do not hear His answer, or else we will invent our own answers and attribute them to God. That is to substitute our wisdom and imagination in the place where the Word should be.
To be clear: Do not come to worship expecting the Lord to directly answer you. I will not stand in the pulpit and say: Yes, you are getting the raise that you prayed for. That is not how it works. You know what the answer is by what happens. But the conversation between God and us should still include His Word speaking to you. Otherwise you are expecting Him to listen to you, but you refuse to listen to Him.
In His Word He teaches you to withstand hardship. He points you to the future heaven and earth where He will erase suffering. He teaches you to have faith in the loving Father who gave His Son to heal your infirmities. In this way, He helps you in your needs and strengthens your faith.
So ask, but listen to His voice as well.
If we ask for healing, but healing does not come, does our faith die? Do we turn away from the Church because God did not give us what we wanted? Of course not, otherwise that is a selfish, childish faith. But we learn in the Word to see God as a loving Father who desires His children be helped, not a callous deadbeat dad. If the official was a loving father toward his son, how much more the heavenly Father whose tender mercies endure forever? He will never hate us, because He is the One who cleansed us with water and the Word. He is the One who sent His Son to redeem us. Christ shed precious Blood and bowed His head in death. Should we act like Godís heart is cold and careless toward us? Of course not!
The Spirit remind us of this in times of trouble, so that we trust God all the more.
Sometimes, God withholds His aid from us for a time. Then we should remember that Godís Son was surrendered to death for us, and He withheld His aid then. This was in His wisdom that the greater healing was to come from Christís suffering. If He had healed and released His Son then, before redemption was accomplished, then He would be a callous father towards us. Instead He waited for the resurrection for the full healing of Christ. He waited until the precisely right time. So He also acts towards us, although we may not see what the best time is.
Sometimes God withholds His hand from healing us, but always for a good reason. We little children should accept His superior wisdom. We cannot always see His ways, as the nobleman did not understand the full power of Christ to heal at a distance or raise his son. We do not, because of the weakness of our flesh, trust God as perfectly as we should. When He sends trouble, He wants us to grow in faith to trust Him more fully. Part of that trust means surrendering control to the loving Father. It means confessing that He is loving, wise, and good, even when our eyes tell us that He is not helping us. That is the stronger faith.
We must wait through sufferings, and eventually we die (unless the Lord returns first). But the fullest healing comes at the resurrection. We know that will happen because we trust His promise. We have the assurance in the greatest sign of all, which is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are sealed into His resurrection by the same power that raised Him from the dead. We received that seal in Holy Baptism.
So be patient in prayer and listen to His gracious Word through all crosses. Do not turn a bitter eye toward Him as if He is an unloving Father. And when your weak, sinful flesh fails you and you fail to trust as you should, then confess your sin and receive His powerful Word of forgiveness. We can trust Him for this because He is always gracious and loving.
In His wonderful Name. Amen.
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