Thursday, March 26, 2020

He Just Said Okay and Went Home

He Just Said Okay and Went Home
Read John 4:43-54

He just said okay and went home. When I try and put myself in the place of this father, I cannot fathom that response. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that judgmentally, as if he didn’t do enough for his son. Afterall, he had walked the 20+ miles from Capernaum to Cana just to find Jesus. I guess I am more in awe of him because he took Jesus at his word. By turning around and going back home without Jesus in tow, he was not only saying he believed Jesus, he was living as if he believed Jesus.
I don’t know if I could do that if I were in his situation.
We’re told his son was near death. The man wasn’t just coming to Jesus for a 2nd opinion; he wasn’t just trying to avoid some hospital bills. You don’t walk or ride a donkey for an entire day for the sake of a few dollars or a little convenience. I think John wants us to understand that this guy probably saw Jesus as his last chance—his son’s last chance. If Jesus couldn’t or wouldn’t help, his son was going to die.

That alone would make me the biggest pest, the most insistent, annoying guy around. I would beg, implore, bribe, badger, threaten, shame—anything I could think of to get him to come with me. If I was that father and Jesus had said to me, “go home your son will be fine,” I think I might have gone down to the village marketplace and hired the 5 biggest guys, no, the ten biggest guys—wait, he had 12 disciples—an army of the biggest guys I could find to grab Jesus and drag him bodily to Capernaum.

I think of myself during this age of the coronavirus. What if one of my sons or, a better example, Chione, since many of you know her, had severe chills, and body-aches, and shortness of breath and a high fever? What if I packed her up and raced to the hospital, left her in the car and charged into the emergency room? And what if, grabbing the first doctor I could find, I explained her condition to that Dr. only to have the Dr. say, “take her home; she’ll be fine by the time you get home”? No Covid-19 test, no cursory exam, no, “open your mouth and say Awww,” not even a glance at her; just, “take her home; she’ll be fine by the time you get home.”

No. I wouldn’t, couldn’t just say okay and go home. I know, Jesus isn’t just any doctor, but your child is your child.

Back to the father in the story. I would have so many questions for Jesus before I even considered heading home.

“Go home, that’s it? Don’t you have some form of special prayer for me to pray over him, or some kind of holy water to sprinkle on him? Should I go home by a special route, sing some kind of chant as I walk home, or dunk him in a pond seven times or face him to the east or something? I’m a helpless parent here and you’re not letting me do anything to help.

“And what am I supposed to tell my wife when I get home? I can see it now. She’ll meet me at the door, look around and ask, ‘where is he?’

“He’s not here,” I’ll answer.

‘What did he say?’

“He said go home, I’ll answer--and it will sound just as ridiculous to her then as it does to me now

‘And you just went?’

“…No, Jesus, I’m not having that conversation with her.

“And another thing, you’ve never even seen my son. How do you know who to heal? How do know where to send the healing angel or spirit or whatever you use to do your remote healing? Are you doing some kind of mind-meld with me as I think about my son laying at death’s door? Can you get my address from that? Or, are you doing some sort of DNA scan on me so you can find a match in Capernaum? Is that how you’re going to find him?

“Jesus, I know you’re a great teacher, and maybe you’re the Messiah, and I should probably trust you, but this is too much for me. Won’t you just do this my way and come with me? And, if you could hold my hand while we’re walking that would help me too.”

That would be me in a nutshell.

I would have missed the point just like everyone else missed the point--except the father.

Maybe it would be helpful to go back to the beginning of the story so we can understand what is going on here.

John tells us that Jesus leaves Samaria and goes back to Galilee. He then prefaces the story with a couple of statements that seem to contradict each other. We’re first told that Jesus himself said that a prophet is without honor in his own country. But then John turns around and tells us that the Galileans received Jesus because of what they had seen him do in Jerusalem while he was at the feast. At first glance that might be confusing, but it is making the precise point John wants us to see.

When the father first comes to Jesus, it appears that Jesus actually reprimands him. That made me a little uncomfortable. This desperate father, probably exhausted from a long journey, begs Jesus for help and Jesus scolds him—or at least seems to.

Maybe Jesus was a little tired and grumpy after his own long trip. Something must be going on, right? The last time we see Jesus, he is this excited, enthusiastic guy who tells his disciples he doesn’t even need to eat because his food is to do the work of the father, and now he rebukes this father who understandably wants Jesus to save his son. Wouldn’t that fall under the category of “his Father’s work”?

Granted, Jesus had just come from an experience where an entire village believed in him because of what one woman had said about him. He didn’t have to heal anyone, or feed a crowd or cast out a demon. They heard and believed. Now he comes to his old stomping grounds and people want proof.

One of the reasons Jesus sounds so harsh is that what is actually happening here gets lost in translation.

The problem is that English doesn’t have a plural form of the word you. The closest thing might be y’all.  But now that I think about it a friend of mine from Mississippi told me that y’all isn’t plural. The plural form of y’all is all y’all. That was probably too cumbersome for Bible translators to use here, so most of them just put the standard English you. So, it sounds like Jesus is talking to the father and accusing him of merely wanting a sign instead of desperately wanting his son to be saved.

Some of the modern translations use the term, “you people”—“Unless you people see signs and wonders….”—to try to clarify what is happening here, but that doesn’t really help much. Most of the time when we use the phrase, “you people,” we are lumping one person in with a bigger group—in essence meaning “people like you.” So, when John says Jesus addressed the man and says “you people,” we get the picture that Jesus is saying to the man, “people like you are always looking for signs.”

The term translated “you” here is a term used to address a crowd rather than refer to a crowd. So here is what I see happening:

Jesus looks at the man but addresses the crowd around him, “hey crowd, unless you guys see signs and wonders you don’t believe.” The implied second clause to that sentence is, “but this man comes to me because he already believes.” Jesus isn’t lumping the man in with the group, he is setting the man apart from the group.
The man gets it. He is focused on his task. “Sir, come down before my son dies.” This wasn’t a man looking for a show. Neither was this a man grasping at straws; this was a man expressing a conviction. If you come with me my son will live. He wasn’t asking Jesus to prove anything,\; he was asking Jesus to do what he was already convinced Jesus could do.

Jesus’ eyes don’t waver from the man’s eyes, “Done.”

The man took Jesus at his word and goes home. This isn’t a man who heads for home unsure of what he’ll find, he’s convinced, he’s satisfied, he’s weak in the knees, he’s elated. In my version of the story he turns, throws a fist pump into the air and starts jogging for home.

John draws a parallel between this story and the previous story. The people of Sychar believed because of the word of the Samaritan woman;+ this father believes because of the word Jesus tells him.

The problem with the Galileans was that they made a priority of the signs instead of what the signs were pointing to.

Whether you like Facebook or not, it is a useful platform for communicating with large numbers of friends and family members without having to send out individual emails, texts or phone calls. When Facebook first started to become popular, I had a co-worker at Warner Pacific who decided it was her goal to acquire 1000 Facebook friends. Every morning when I saw her, she would announce the number of friends she was up to.

One morning I asked her what kind of things she posted on Facebook.

She said, “I really never post anything. My life is just not that interesting and I really don’t want everyone to know what I’m doing every minute of the day anyway.”

That confused me a bit so I asked her, “then why do you want people to friend you?”

“So I can say I have 1000 friends.”

That was the Galileans. They were enthusiastic about collecting the signs that Jesus did, but they missed the whole point of why the signs were there.

Jesus didn’t feel the need to prove anything to anybody. There are times in the gospels when the religious leaders demanded that he tell them where his authority came from. That demand never impressed Jesus. He never showed much of an inclination to answer it.

Sometimes I hear people say things like, “I don’t believe in a God who would___________”(you fill in the blank). That kind if statement befuddles me. It seems to indicate a grave misunderstanding of who is God and who isn’t. If God needs to meet our individual criteria in order to be God, then God isn’t God. We and God have switched places. This doesn’t mean we cannot have questions, but it does caution us about demanding certain answers, or specific actions.

John finishes this story by telling us that this is the second sign Jesus performs. That seems a little odd since Jesus rebukes the crowd for demanding a sign. But for John the purpose of signs is to point to Jesus is, not to prove that he meets somebodies threshold for divinity.

The book of John is structured around 7 or 8 signs depending on who you talk to. The first two, turning the water into wine, and the healing of the official’s son, are identified for us by John. Finding the rest is sort of a treasure hunt—John lets us read the clues and identify them for ourselves.

What is interesting about this being identified as a sign is that father is the only one who witnesses it. He was the only one who heard Jesus say the boy would recover, and also see that the boy actually did. As far as we know, the father traveled back to Capernaum by himself. There is no indication or even a hint that anyone else was with him when his servants met him on the road to tell him his son was well. Here we have one of the signs John shaped his whole gospel around and Jesus gives it as a gift to an audience of one.

The importance of believing without proof is a theme echoed toward the end of John’s gospel. Even though Jesus had appeared to the other disciples, Thomas refuses to believe that Jesus rose from the dead unless he can poke his finger in Jesus’ nail holes, and jab his hand into the wound in Jesus’ side. Later Jesus appears to Thomas and shows Thomas his scars to which Thomas replies, “my Lord and my God.”
Jesus then says, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

This all makes me wonder about how much I grope for proof; how frequently I am just interested in collecting signs. How often do I want Jesus to do a particular thing for myself or my family instead of taking him at his word when he says things like:

“I will never leave you or forsake you.”

“I am with you always.”

“Take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Sometimes we just want things fixed. Sometimes we want to know how things are going to be resolved. We want Jesus to take care of us, but we want it in a way we can see and touch and understand like a paycheck or a full bank account or a stimulus check from the government, or a coronavirus vaccine. I don’t doubt that God uses those kinds of things, but perhaps there are just times when no matter how things look to us, we just need to take Jesus at his word, say okay and go home.

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