Older posts in this series: John 1
, John 2
, John 3:1-10
, John 3:9-12
, John 3:13-21
, John 3:22-30
, John 3:31-36
, John 4:1-26
, John 4:27-42
As we resume our story, Jesus has just passed through Samaria en route from Judaea to his homeland of Galilee.
 Now after two days he departed thence, and went into Galilee.  For Jesus himself testified, that a prophet hath no honour in his own country.  Then when he was come into Galilee, the Galilaeans received him, having seen all the things that he did at Jerusalem at the feast: for they also went unto the feast.
Mark (6:1-5; cf. Matthew 13:54-58) also quotes Jesus as saying, "A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country," but does so in a context that makes more sense.
 And he went out from thence, and came into his own country; and his disciples follow him.
 And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, "From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands?  Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us?" And they were offended at him.
 But Jesus, said unto them, "A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house."
 And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them.
In Mark, Jesus says this just after being dismissed by the people of his own country, and we are then told that he could do few miracles there ("because of their unbelief," Matthew adds). In John, there is no such context, and no indication that his countrymen were dismissive; on the contrary, it appears that they welcomed him as a known worker of miracles. (They had seen him work miracles at the Passover in Jerusalem, as mentioned in John 2:23.)
In John, v. 44 reads at first like a non sequitur. Jesus went into Galilee, for
he said a prophet has no honor in his own country -- for?
Is that bit about a prophet having no honor supposed to be the reason
he went into Galilee? At first I found this so puzzling that I was almost ready to assume that something had been excised from the text between vv. 43 and 44, but on second thought it actually makes sense.
Why was Jesus traveling from Judaea to Galilee? According to John 4:1-3, it was because he "knew how the Pharisees [in Judaea] had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John." Jesus had become too famous in Judaea and was apparently trying to escape from that. One might have supposed he would have been left in peace in Samaria, where the locals had no dealings with the Jews and had stubbornly rejected every prophet since Moses -- but even there he unexpectedly became a celebrity, proclaimed the Messiah even by the unbelieving Samaritans. Then he passed on into Galilee. Surely there
he would not be welcomed as the Messiah, since Jesus himself had said that a prophet has no honor in his own country. No such luck, though. The Galilaeans had been at the feast at Jerusalem and seen his miracles, and so his fame had preceded him.
Why was Jesus running from his fame, trying to find a place where the people would not
enthusiastically welcome him as the Messiah? Didn't he want
people to "believe on his name"? We can only speculate as to his reasons. Perhaps, as I suggested in my notes on John 4:1-26 (qv
), he left Judaea so as not to appear to be competing with John the Baptist. Perhaps he was ambivalent about being received as the Messiah because he knew he wasn't
the Messiah, not really, not the Davidic figure the Jews were expecting. (See my post on Jesus and the Messianic prophecies
.) Perhaps, as suggested in John 2:23-25, he was not interested in attracting disciples whose "faith" went no deeper than a capacity to be wowed by miracles. Certainly he wanted to avoid becoming the center of a political movement. Anyway, whatever his reasons, Jesus' desire to keep a low profile is attested in all four Gospels, most particularly in Mark, where the secrecy of Jesus' Messianic mission is a central theme.
 So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum.  When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judaea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death.
 Then said Jesus unto him, "Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe."
What first crossed my mind when I read this was Herod's song from Jesus Christ Superstar
(the scriptural basis for which is Luke 23:8): "So you are the Christ / You're the great Jesus Christ / Prove to me that you're divine / Change my water into wine / That's all you need do / And I'll know it's all true / C'mon, King of the Jews!"
Why did that, of all things, come to mind? Because that's the sort of request Jesus seems to think he's responding to. A desperate father comes to beg him to save his son's life, and Jesus responds as if he'd said, "Prove to me that you're no fool / Walk across my swimming pool." It seems almost narcissistic of Jesus to assume that the request is about his proving himself rather than about saving the child. It's as if a physician were to say to a distraught patient, "What, now I've got to cure leukemia
to prove I'm a competent doctor? You people!"
Could Jesus really have responded like this to a heartfelt plea for help? Be it far from thee, Lord! Something else must be going on here.
Is it possible that the nobleman's request really was an attempt to put Jesus to the test, or even an expression of idle curiosity, and that his son's illness was just a convenient pretext? That seems highly unlikely. He made a special trip from Capernaum to Cana -- about 24 miles one way (or so; the exact location of Cana is disputed) -- just to see Jesus, leaving behind his son who "was at the point of death." It's hard to imagine what but sincere desperation could have motivated such a trip under such circumstances.
Is it possible that by "signs and wonders" Jesus meant not the anticipated healing but rather the unspecified miracles he had wrought in Judaea at the Passover? The Galilaeans, we are told, had been at the feast and seen those miracles, and that is why this time around they "received him." Last time he was in Cana, people certainly weren't coming from far and wide to request healings -- but now, after witnessing signs and wonders in Judaea, suddenly everyone's a believer. It still seems like an unnecessarily sarcastic thing to say, but at least it would not be questioning the sincerity of the nobleman's request.
Is it possible, even though the Gospel reads "Then said Jesus unto him
," that Jesus' comment was actually intended more for onlookers than for the nobleman himself? He did use ye,
a pronoun which in the King James Bible is always plural
. Perhaps we may imagine that a crowd of sign-seekers had gathered around the two of them, waiting to see if and how this Messiah claimant would rise to the challenge of healing a terminally ill child. And perhaps he intentionally gave the nobleman what he wanted, by healing the child, while at the same time refusing to give the crowd what they
wanted, by carrying out the healing in the least showy, most plausibly-deniable way possible -- just "Go home, your son will be fine," with no hocus pocus.
Finally, is it possible that Jesus' statement was not criticism or sarcasm at all, but a simple statement of fact and an explanation of why he agreed to work the requested miracle? He perceived that the nobleman would believe if he saw a miracle, and wouldn't if he didn't, and so he healed his son -- not for the sake of healing him, but in order that the father might believe. People tend to be dismissive of the idea that genuine faith might be occasioned by something as crass as a miracle, but it does happen. And it must be kept in mind that Jesus' mission was spiritual, not medical, in nature. He presumably could have snapped his fingers and healed everyone in the world if that had been what he wanted to accomplish -- but apparently it wasn't.
We rarely ask why Jesus healed people, taking it for granted that of course that's what a good and loving person would do -- but if you think about it, it's fairly obvious that if God didn't want anyone to get sick or die, he would have created a very different sort of world from the one he did in fact create. Sickness and premature death are apparently not always (net) bad things from God's point of view, so Jesus presumably did not
want to heal as many people as possible just for the sake of healing. He healed when, and only when, that would lead to the best result -- "best" by spiritual, not necessarily medical, criteria.
In short, perhaps Jesus' statement was not meant to imply that this nobleman was just like the Pharisees, or like Herod in the song, but precisely that he was not
like them. The Pharisees would not have been converted by a miraculous sign, but would have explained it away or latched onto how it was a violation of the Sabbath or whatever, and so Jesus generally did not perform signs for them. This nobleman, in contrast, was the sort of person who could
be -- and, as it turned out, was
-- converted by a sign, and so Jesus gave him one. I find this an attractive reading; the only thing that makes me unsure about it is Jesus' use of the plural pronoun ye
, implying that he was generalizing about a group rather than talking about the nobleman as an individual.
 The nobleman saith unto him, "Sir, come down ere my child die."
 Jesus saith unto him, "Go thy way; thy son liveth."
And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way.
"Come down" because Capernaum was a low-elevation town on the Sea of Galilee, whereas Cana was up in the hills.
Whatever was intended by Jesus' comment about not believing without signs and wonders, the nobleman does not engage with it at all but simply asks Jesus again to heal his child -- and Jesus does, simple as that, and sends him on his way. Nothing else is needed, not so much as a "Thy faith hath made him whole." And so, after walking 24 miles to Cana and having this maybe 15-second conversation with Jesus, the nobleman turns right around and walks the 24 miles back to Capernaum (or maybe not; see below).
 And as he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, "Thy son liveth."
 Then enquired he of them the hour when he began to amend.
And they said unto him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him."
 So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, "Thy son liveth": and himself believed, and his whole house.
The son's recovery was apparently sudden enough that an exact hour could be pinpointed. The nobleman's desire to know the exact time is understandable. If his son had recovered before
the conversation with Jesus, Jesus' statement would be evidence only of paranormal knowledge ("remote viewing") rather than healing ability. The coincidence of times makes it more probable (but of course does not prove) that Jesus somehow caused
the son's recovery rather than merely reporting it.
Hours were counted from dawn, so the conversation with Jesus took place at approximately 1:00 in the afternoon. The nobleman must have arisen before the sun and begun his journey to Cana very early in the morning in order to arrive so early in the day. Understandably, he would have wanted to avoid traveling in the heat of the afternoon. He did not meet his servants on the road until the next day, so he apparently did not after all head back to Capernaum immediately. He must have stayed in Cana at least to wait out the hottest part of the day, and he probably spent the night there as well.
Given that the nobleman apparently did not set out for home immediately, I find it curious that he "went his way" directly after the brief conversation with Jesus. Since he had some time to kill in Cana, and since Jesus' visit was probably about the most interesting thing going on in that little village, and since he apparently already believed that Jesus had miraculously healed his son -- wouldn't it have been more natural for him to stick around, hear what Jesus had to say, and try to find out a bit more about this extraordinary person? I wonder what he did instead.
 This is again the second miracle that Jesus did, when he was come out of Judaea into Galilee.
I'm not sure why the miracles are being counted in this way. This is not the second miracle that Jesus did, since we know that he performed several miracles in Judaea during the Passover. Neither is it the second miracle that he did after coming out of Judaea into Galilee, since his first miracle in Galilee (turning water into wine, also in Cana) was performed before the trip to Jerusalem. At any rate, it is the second of the seven miracles that this Gospel chooses to emphasize, and perhaps that is all that matters.