When Jesus Isn't There
I've always been intrigued by a story in the Gospel of John. It's the story of how Jesus healed a man's son without being there. Here's the text:
46 So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48 So 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 child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. 51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering.
This is just one of the stories of Jesus performing healing without being present with the person being healed. It would have been an essential text for the early Church because Jesus was no longer physically with them after the Ascension.
They had to learn to trust that the power of Christ's Spirit was still at work among them, even though Jesus' material presence wasn't there.
But this text is also instructive for you and me, over two thousand years after it was written. It is still teaching the lesson of trusting the call of Christ to move where Christ is leading, free from the things that keep us from moving.
Fr. Thomas Keating wrote about this passage and had this beautiful word to share:
The physical presence of the Master which he [the royal official] wanted and which he thought he needed, had first to be taken away... This incident clearly teaches us that it is not merely a rebuke when Jesus seems to push back against the wall and to remove the props which we feel are so necessary for us. It is rather a call to new growth, to the transformation of our weakness. It is a call to a new union with him, a call to "launch out into the deep."
Much like the official in the story, we too often need the certainty of "signs and wonders" to fully trust that Jesus knows what he's doing in our lives.
But life is uncertain, and the way forward is often unclear. There are miles in our journey without signposts or a path to follow. In those moments when certainty fails us, we can learn to grow in our faith if we are willing to keep walking.
This lesson is speaking to me today.
One of the hardest things we are called to do in our journey with Jesus is to trust that God's purposes for us are not meant to harm us but to give us hope and a future.
Jesus told his followers that he would go ahead of them on the path they would follow, but they should know that the future where he was heading was one they could look toward in hope because he would already be there, preparing a place for them.
It's easy to speak in platitudes about the kind of hope Jesus' words offer. We do it all the time. We say things like, "God's will is perfect," or "Let go, and let God." But how many of us believe these things when we feel lost and aimless?
When all of our props are pulled away, when the things we relied upon to feel certain are removed, when even the presence of Jesus can't be felt, we need to hold on to hope that none of that matters.
Because beyond our perceptions and failed certainty, Jesus is ahead of us, calling us to follow even when we can't see the way. And there is hope, healing, and restoration where he calls us to come.
May it be so for us all. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all, now and forever. Amen.