The first time Jesus cured anyone.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 June

Somebody figured if he can turn water to wine, he can cure sick boys.

John 4.43-54

Jesus spent two days with the Samaritans of Sykhár, proclaiming God’s kingdom. Now he needed a break, so he went back to his homeland, the western side of the Roman province of the Galilee. More precisely Cana (today’s Kfar Kanna), 4 kilometers north of Nazareth, where he’d done the water-to-wine thingy.

Or I could just quote the gospel…

John 4.43-46 KWL
43 After the two days, Jesus left Samaria for the Galilee,
44 for Jesus himself testified that in their own homeland, prophets have no value.
45 So when Jesus came to the Galilee, the Galileans received him.
They’d seen all he did in Jerusalem at the festival, for they also went to the festival.
46A He went to Cana, Galilee, where he made the water wine, again.

Now the part which tends to throw Christians is Jesus’s comment “that in their own homeland, prophets have no value.” Because in the other gospels, Jesus says it like it’s a bad thing:

Mark 6.4 KWL
Jesus told them this: “A prophet isn’t worthless—
unless he’s in his homeland, among his relatives, and in his house.”
Matthew 13.57 KWL
They were offended by him, and Jesus told them, “A prophet isn’t worthless—
unless he’s in his homeland, and in his house.”
Luke 4.24 KWL
Jesus said, “Amen! I promise you: No prophet is tolerated in his homeland.”

In that context, it was. In each of these gospels, Jesus was teaching in the Nazareth synagogue, Lk 4.16 but his neighbors couldn’t handle the things coming out of his mouth, ’cause they presumed they knew all about him—and who was he? What’s the handyman Mk 6.1 (or handyman’s son Mt 13.55) doing claiming to be a rabbi, a miracle-worker, a prophet? In Luke, they even tried to push him off a cliff. Lk 4.29

I don’t know whether that event took place before this John passage. It might have. I don’t think so, ’cause one of the Nazarenes’ objections was they wanted Jesus to repeat some of the miracles he’d done in Kfar Nahum (D-R Capharnaum) Lk 4.23 and in John he’d done no such miracles yet. Jn 4.54 But it seems he had already made the quip that prophets are worthless in their homeland.

Christians, who aren’t always aware of how a saying can change meaning depending on its context, assume since the saying is negative in the other gospels, it must also be negative here. So their interpretations of this passage get all loopy. Since John says they went to the Galilee gar/“for indeed” Jesus said prophets have no value, some folks preach Jesus went there because they were hostile to him. Because Jesus wanted to start something. Maybe pick a fight.

St. Augustine figured the Galileans were annoyed at Jesus for hanging out with Samaritans. Both John Calvin and John Wesley figured only Nazareth was Jesus’s homeland, and since they didn’t like him there, he went further north to Cana—but I already explained Cana is also his homeland. But all these interpretations skip the gar/“for indeed” in verse 44, and ignore the idea Jesus went there because the “you’re nothing special” attitude would be there.

As I indicated two paragraphs ago, Jesus’s saying isn’t necessarily a negative one. Is when the locals are trying to whack him. Isn’t when you just wanna relax, and for once not be “Jesus the Prophet” or “Jesus the Messiah.” So that’s how I interpret it: At this point Jesus took his students away from controversy in Judea and ministry in Samaria, and took ’em home for a break, where his importance was ignored, and he could just be regular, plain, ordinary Jesus bar Joseph. Hang out with Jesus’s non-dysfunctional family, and relax. Without crowds of people testing your theology every waking moment, without gawkers speculating what kind of Messiah you were, without sick people begging you to heal ’em.

Well, till the prince showed up. That bit’s next.

The prince.

So there’s this vasilikós/“kingly [person].” Probably a member of the Herod family who had some actual authority. It’s why I went with “prince,” though it tends to be translated “nobleman” (KJV) or “royal official” (NIV).

Somehow word leaked out Jesus might be the sort of person who could do miracles. And when you’re desperate, you’ll jump on that sort of rumor. So this prince saddled up, rode 30 kilometers across the province, and called on some obscure Nazarene rabbi.

John 4.46-47 KWL
46B There was a certain prince. His son fell ill in Kfar Nahum.
47 When this prince heard Jesus came to the Galilee out of Judea, he went to Jesus
and asked whether Jesus would come down there and heal his son, who was about to die.

Notice the prince didn’t summon Jesus to Kfar Nahum and order him to heal his son. ’Cause he knew his bible: You don’t order men of God to do stuff. They might just call down fire on you. 2Ki 1.9-12 Instead you ask. Politely.

So the prince asked. Partly ’cause he didn’t know whether Jesus would; partly ’cause he didn’t know whether Jesus could. The only miracles Jesus had performed thus far in John were his prophecies (which count, though they’re not the mighty acts most folks associate with miracles) and the water-to-wine bit. That’s not a lot to go on. But if God empowers you to do something so frivolous as turning water to wine for a wedding, why couldn’t he enable you to heal some important guy’s son?

Now, that seems like flimsy reasoning, which is why Christians speculate Jesus had to’ve done more miracles than that. Even though John says otherwise:

John 4.54 KWL
Jesus did this second sign after he came out of Judea to the Galilee.

The first sign being water-to-wine. Jn 2.11

But what various Christians will do is take the pálin… elthón ek tis Judaías eis tin Galilaían/“after he came out of Judea to the Galilee” and insist it means this was the second miracle he did in the Galilee—but he did other miracles, which weren’t recorded, down south in Judea. ’Cause wouldn’t we need more references than just the one before we declared someone a proper faith-healer?

Yeah, right. Not even journalists bother with gathering two independent sources anymore. And like I said, if you’re desperate, you don’t care. You go to Jesus and ask if he can help you. If he can, awesome. If not, move on to the next rumored miracle-worker.

Elsewhere in the gospels, we see whenever people went to Jesus with a request, but they harbored doubts about it, Jesus tends to challenge their faith, and snap ’em out of it. You might remember the guy whose son had seizures, and Jesus got him to respond, “I believe, but help my unbelief!” Mk 9.24 Jesus came to grow faith. If we come to him with partial faith, he regularly insists on stretching it further before he acts. Then, and now.

John 4.48-50 KWL
48 So Jesus told him, “If there are no signs and wonders you people can see, you can’t believe.”
49 The prince told him, “Sir, come down before my child is dead!”
50 Jesus told him, “Off you go. Your son lives.”
The prince trusted the message which Jesus told him, and went.

Jesus’s response tends to be interpreted as if it’s directly to the man: “If you don’t see, you don’t believe.” But the you is plural. Jesus wasn’t addressing this guy specifically, but everyone generally. For most people, seeing is believing.

At first glance this doesn’t sound very kind and sympathetic of Jesus. The prince is worried about his kid, but Jesus makes a rhetorical statement about belief. Since we know Jesus is kind, what’s going on here? Simple: He’s doing his job. He’s being a teacher. He’s teaching a lesson to his students who’re watching this—including the student who wrote this gospel, and added this story. And he’s teaching this lesson to the prince. “If you can’t see, you don’t believe. Well, now I’m gonna teach you not to be so small-minded.”

Interpreting this as a challenge to his faith (which it totally was), the prince bucked up and made a serious request: “Sir” (or “Master”; kýrie means both), “come down before my child is dead!” And Jesus didn’t grant that request—but did grant his wish. He healed the kid immediately, and told the prince to go home.

Not that the prince knew his son had been healed yet. But that’s how quickly Jesus will respond when we stop waffling, and take a leap of faith. The prince threw everything in with Jesus, and Jesus lived up to his trust.

The faithless reinterpretation.

You wanna know the messed-up thing: I grew up in cessationist churches, who taught miracles only happened back in bible times, but not any more. And more than once, I’ve heard ’em repurpose verse 48 to discourage people away from the miraculous and the supernatural.

John 4.48 KJV
Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.

This, they claimed, is precisely what Jesus doesn’t want. He doesn’t want us to see, then believe. He only wants us to believe. Without seeing. Don’t ask for signs and wonders. We’re not supposed to see signs and wonders anymore. Just believe. Believe regardless.

Jesus, they claim, was actually irritated by all the requests and demands for miracles he received. Yeah, he still cured people. He healed the son of this pesky prince. But grudgingly, to shut him up and make him go away. Wasn’t done out of love, patience, kindness, generosity, nor to grow faith. Nor any of the fruitful reasons which are the basis of God’s character, which Jesus should have behind everything he ever did. It was solely to get the guy out of his sacred hair. “Well, except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe… but today I guess I’ll throw you a bone.”

But, they continue, that was then. Don’t you ever insist on such a thing. Don’t you ever ask God to heal your sick kids, and make it a condition for your faith: “God, if you can’t come through for me, what’s the point of you?” We’re supposed to base our faith on bible. Not miracles. Not testimonies.

Problem is, this interpretation contradicts the whole purpose of John’s gospel.

John 20.30-31 KWL
30 So indeed, Jesus did many other signs before his students
—which aren’t written in this book.
31 These were written—so you can all believe Jesus is the Christ, God’s son;
so in believing, you can have life in his name.

The bible is testimonies. It’s made up of the best testimonies. But there are many, many other testimonies. Generations of Christians who’ve seen and experienced Jesus for themselves, whose word can also be trusted. Whose experiences are consistent with the scriptures, ’cause they’re done by the same living God. A God who ceased? That’s a dead God, and it turns the bible into dead history, not a living word.

Both in context, and in common sense, this verse does not mean “Don’t ask for miracles.” Just the opposite. Jesus welcomes requests for miracles.

However, if we make those requests with a rotten, faithless attitude—kinda like the attitude a skeptical cessationist would smugly have with a faith-healer, full of unbelief and mockery—don’t expect Jesus to welcome that.

Faith, when acted upon, spreads.

Yeah, Jesus could’ve gone with the prince to Kfar Nahum, healed the boy, and there’d be much rejoicing, and belief. But this way worked too: Before he went home, the prince met his slaves, and they brought him good news.

John 4.51-53 KWL
51 Now before the prince went back down, his slaves came to meet him, saying that his child lived.
52 So the prince asked them what hour the boy had recovered.
So the slaves told him this: “Yesterday, the seventh hour after sunrise, the fever left him.”
53 So the father knew this was the hour when Jesus told him, “Your son lives.” Jn 4.50
He believed—he and his whole house.

A lot of preachers make it sound like the prince was riding home, and enroute he ran into his slaves and had this conversation. But that wouldn’t have happened for this reason: The roadways weren’t safe, especially at night. Thieves and insurgents were waiting to mug anyone stupid enough to try it, and it was especially hazardous for a wealthy prince. So to travel to Jesus, the prince had to leave Kfar Nahum at dawn, and finally got to Jesus around the seventh hour—meaning seven hours after sunrise; anywhere between 12:30 in summer and 1:30 in winter. With only five to six more hours of daylight (less, ’cause you know the meeting with Jesus took time), he wasn’t gonna make it home before nightfall. Plus seven hours on a horse would make you sore enough; you wanna spend another seven in the same day, during the hotter hours? Nah. Best to wait till morning.

However, his slaves couldn’t wait to give him the good news, and braved the dangers to get to him and tell him.

Yeah, a skeptic could chalk this up to coincidence: Jesus fortuitously said “Your son lives” at around the time the boy got better. The naysayers in the Galilee might’ve argued it was just a lucky break. Same as naysayers today. Coincidences happen all the time; doesn’t make ’em miracles.

But a foretold coincidence is no coincidence. When a prophet says, “[Long-shot event] will happen,” it wasn’t likely to begin with, and it’s no accident when it does happen. Sick boys, 30 kilometers away, don’t just recover at the very same instant a rabbi makes the definite statement, “Your son lives.”

So once the prince discovered the fever broke at the same time Jesus had spoken, he believed. And once he told his slaves, they believed. If any of these slaves were gentiles (which is likely; you didn’t have to free them every seven years, Lv 25.46 so they’re more cost-effective), it meant these gentiles would now believe in Jesus—and by extension, Jesus’s God. Hey, the pagan gods were no help, but Jesus’s God could heal instantly. And without any ridiculous incantations or special sacrifices.

We don’t know how devoted this prince and his house remained to Jesus. It may be this was Huzá (KJV Chuza), Herod’s epitrópu/“land supervisor,” whose wife Joanna became one of Jesus’s followers and patrons. Lk 8.3 It may also be that he lost his devotion and appreciation after the cares of this world became too distracting. Mk 4.18-19 We can’t say. I prefer the first idea of course, but I’m an optimist.