“Believe”

GOSPEL | JOHN 4:43-54

46 Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum.  47 When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.  48 Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”  49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.”  50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way.  51 As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive.  52 So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, “Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.”  53 The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he himself believed, along with his whole household.  54 Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.

I wonder after reading this whether belief is enough. The word “believe” has been an echo throughout the whole book of John so far, and this is no exception. It would seem, then, that belief is Jesus’ ultimate goal. And then we read Jesus tell this official, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” (v.48).

I don’t know how to read the emotion of Jesus’ voice here. Is this a kind of exasperated sigh: “You guys just don’t get it”? Is this a reproach: “Haven’t you been paying attention?!”? Or is he conceding to the frailty of human understanding, giving the official an invitation to see and to believe?

But Jesus doesn’t tell the official, “Come and see” (John 1:39); instead, Jesus says, “Go” (v.50). I don’t understand what it is that I am being called to. If Jesus is asking me to simply believe, then I am free to go on with my business as usual; but if he is calling me to be a disciple, then I have to give up something (no, everything. Contrast this call to discipleship with our usual Lenten practice of “giving something up” – hmm).

Which brings me back to how we read Jesus saying, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” (v.48). Is he disparaging our need to see to believe? Or our desire to merely believe, rather than to commit ourselves entirely? Belief is undoubtedly important: after Jesus changed the water to wine (note: that was the first sign, done in the same place), “his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11). However, they also followed him. During Lent, the church does not settle for “mere” belief; we are called to follow, to “come and see,” to be disciples. May the Spirit quicken us, after we believe, to rise up and follow as well.

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