A Stance of Unknowing Faith

John 4:46-54 February 9, 2014

images-65Today, we meet a desperate father.  He’s a royal official of some kind and his son is really sick.  I think it’s silly we refer to him as a royal official, because in this story, his position in serving royalty seems not to matter a bit.  It’s his position, his station as father that carries the weight here.  So, this desperate dad is desperate enough that when he hears Jesus is back in Cana, the scene of Jesus’ first sign and miracle of turning water into wine in the book of John, the father hits the road straight to Jesus from Capernaum.  Which was an entire day of travel, about 20-25 miles.  He’s desperate enough that he takes an entire day to travel to see Jesus.

And did you hear?  Did you hear how Jesus responded to him? Did you hear the compassion, feel the embrace of Jesus’ empathy and care?  No, neither did I.  Jesus seems to meet this man’s desperation, this man who has been reduced to begging, with a terse: Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe. 

lying-signs-and-wonders-movementHuh?  Why that particular response? Was Jesus frustrated?  Was this request on the heels of dozens of requests for signs?

Who knows, maybe people had been asking for Jesus to turn water into wine again, or frogs into princes like some sort of circus freak, “do it again, Jesus! Do it again!” I don’t know.  What I do know is that’s not the response I would look for from Jesus if I were a desperate parent looking for a miracle, looking for a sign.  Something.


So maybe Jesus is exactly right. This father was looking for a sign and a wonder.  His son was near death.  He was begging Jesus to come with him, to heal his boy. You bet he wanted a sign and wonder of his son not dying. Good call, Jesus.  You had him pegged at the get go.  You know us so well.

In John’s Gospel, a “sign” is something that is not simply miraculous but that reveals Jesus’ divine nature and mission to those who are open to seeing it.[1] Which means we totally miss all kinds of signs, right?  We can get caught up in the “proof” of seeing that which we think is a sign from God while missing the actual thing.  Because if a sign reveals what Jesus is doing in the world and we’re so busy looking for something so particular, something we’ve devised, we are more than likely going to miss it.

nye_ham_wide-d60821080d2dc70991a8035b99f480ba3adf5208-s4-c85There was a 2-hour debate last week between creationist Ken Ham and scientist Bill Nye.  I didn’t tune in and have only read a smattering of the commentary I’ve seen on line.  It seems to me that a debate between 2 people with polar opposite views on the way things came to be end up relying on proof.  Proof of being right. Proof of the other being wrong. I think we can get so distracted by taking sides that we miss how science and faith speak to each other. We miss that faith does not exclude science but is wrapped up in the mix of who we are, where we came from, where we’re headed.  We miss that one does not debunk the other. We miss the bigger picture, the better story. We miss all signs and wonders.

The desperate father had no proof. He only had his voice. And he didn’t use it to argue with Jesus.  He didn’t say, “No, I’m not like you say I am.”  He didn’t demand a sign saying he would only believe if he saw a sign.  He didn’t tell Jesus to reassure him or to prove to him that he had been heard. Instead, he continues to beg, undeterred by this unfeeling miracle worker’s seemingly flippant response.

Jesus did not go with him, as the father had asked.  Jesus didn’t give him a pep talk or say, “just have faith.”

Instead, he says to this desperate father: Go, your son will live.

And this is the sign and wonder, people.  This next line is what has given me life all ding dang week:

The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way.  He walked away without proof of his son’s healing.  He walked away in faith.  What an incredible statement of faith.  There was no way to verify if Jesus was telling the truth, if he was the real deal.  The man couldn’t call ahead to say, “Is he getting better? Jesus said he’d live!”  There was no way for this desperate father to know.  He believed and started on his way.

images-64A whole day of travel awaited him.  A whole day of not knowing.  Go, your son will live.

How was he on that journey back home?  Did he feel the presence of God?  How near did God feel to him?  Did his faith falter?

Barbara Brown Taylor is a preacher and professor and she answers that question: how near is God?

[video: A stance of unknowing]

This is where we join this desperate father on the road.  On the long road of faith in the midst of unknowing.   We’ve been on that long road before and we’ll be on it again, won’t we?  We of course don’t know what that journey home was like, but we can imagine different scenarios can’t we?  Because you’ve prayed and asked for healing for someone and maybe you still grieved their early death.  Or when is it you’ve walked in faith only to arrive home and find your home forever changed?  Or maybe you’ve not been able to afford the mortgage or pass the class or right the relationship. Where is God, then?

It’s the essence of faith, isn’t it?  This is the life of faith.  Walking down the road without proof of what will happen next. This is our reality, isn’t it? We’re on the road of faith, living footstep to footstep, heart beat to heart beat.  We demonstrate great faith and then in the next breath, we demand proof, challenging God to a duel.

We can be certain of God’s love. We can be certain of who Jesus is.  When your son is healed or the bottom falls out of your life, you can be certain that you are loved, even when the road is long and destination unknown.  This is the stuff of faith.

[Prayer: Video]


[1] Working Preacher, David Lose