The evangelist ends John 4 with the narration of the second sign, namely the healing of the royal official’s son. This concludes the section called “from Cana to Cana”. From another point of view this will be the third type of response to the revelation of Jesus, a response from a person who is a gentile. The narration deals with two major themes: faith and life.
There are two narrations in the synoptic Gospels which can be considered parallel to this: Luke 7: 1-10 and Matthew 8: 5-13. The following elements are common to all the three.
- Capernaum is the place where the events are taking place.
- The request is made by a high official.
- It is the son of the high official who is sick.
- Similarity in the way Jesus replies to the implorer.
- The haling takes place from distance without direct contact between the healer and the beneficiary.
- There are two other texts which have some kind of similarity to John 4: 43-54. They are Mark 7: 24-30 and Matthew 15: 21-28. Jesus’ attitude to the Syro-phoenician woman or Canaanite woman is negative in the beginning just as it is negative in John 4: 43-54.
All the essential elements of the literary for of a miracle can be found in this narration. They are:
- The encounter between the miracle worker and the beneficiary.
- The gravity of the situation.
- The demand for faith and its proclamation.
- Confirmation of the miracle.
So there are many similarities among parallel traditions. There are differences too. But the differences may be the result of each evangelist’s theological viewpoint or the independent traditions that developed from the source tradition. Hence it is very much possible that one historical event is presented by the various evangelists reinterpreting them.
In the Gospel of John the relationship between both the Cana events (Jn 2: 1-12; 4: 43-54) is clear. In the first one, faith is the result of seeing the sign. Whereas in the second, faith is the result of hearing. There is a progressive development of the theme of faith. There are narrative similarities also. Someone makes a request; there is apparent rejection; implorer insists; request is granted; a community of believers is formed. The event is taking place at Cana in Galilee.
The message is given through a dialogue between Jesus and the royal official. The royal official requests for the healing of his son who was at the point of death. Jesus challenges him by referring to the usual superstitious and shallow faith of the gentiles as they depended on the “signs and wonders”. The man, instead of being offended, insists on Jesus’ going to his house. This was the expression of a radical faith that transcends the superstitions. Jesus immediately concedes to the request and heals the sick person through words: “Go; your son will live” (Jn 4: 50). The words of Jesus introduce the important theme of “life”: “your son will live”. The radical faith which the royal official had expressed through his insistent prayer was now translated into action. He believed the words of Jesus and did not look for signs and wonders but “went his way” (Jn 4: 50). The report of the healing reaches him on the way. The report too repeats the theme of “life”: “his sons was living” (Jn 4: 51). And it happened exactly at the time “when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live” (Jn 4: 53). His faith becomes a witness and his whole house-hold too believed in Jesus. The sequence is: faith, life, believing, and community.
The event is a further clarification of faith through hearing. Those who thus believe will be declared blessed by the risen Jesus at the end of the Gospel (Jn 20: 29 – “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”). The theme of life which refers to eternal life gets a new dimension here. Jesus’ healing is not merely a physical and external healing but an integral and radical experience of wholeness.
This introduces the next chapter in the Gospel of John where the theme of “life” is further developed through the healing of the paralytic.