12 March 2018

Do you need signs and wonders?

4th Week of Lent (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic, NOLA

This scene from John always makes me a little nervous. Jesus seems to be dismissing the royal official's anxiety about his dying son. He asks Jesus to come to Capernaum and heal the kid and Jesus sort of waves him off with “You people just won't believe unless you see signs and wonders.” Completely ignoring him, the official persists, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Here's where I have to be careful, b/c I can almost see Jesus roll his eyes and sigh before he says – a little too pompously? – “You may go; your son will live.” Now, I know Jesus didn't roll his eyes or sigh, and I know he's not arrogantly dismissing this poor man's distress over his dying son. But I think you can see how this all reads on the page. Jesus here isn't exactly the picture of the heroic healer we've some to expect. So, what's going on? The answer – I think – comes in the sentence immediately after Jesus tells the man that his son will live. John writes, “The man believed what Jesus said to him and left.” In other words, the man believes Jesus has healed his son before he actually knows that his son is healed. He didn't need to see signs and wonder before he believed. He takes Jesus at his word.

When we talk about faith, we often talk as if faith is a quantity of something, a measurable amount of “holy stuff.” I need more faith. I don't have enough faith. We do the same thing with grace. More grace. Not enough grace. This is a deadly way of thinking about the trust we place in the Lord. We cannot account for faith; that is, count it up and balance the ledger btw credits and debits. Faith is our living, daily trust in the Father's promises. I trust God, or I don't. If I say that I trust God but still seek after signs and wonders, then all I'm doing is gambling that I'm right to trust Him. If I refuse to trust until I have proof, then my trust – when the proof comes – isn't really trust at all. However, if – like the official – I ask in faith for something and believe it is given before I see it done, then I can say that I truly trust in God's Word. We like evidence. We like to see and hear and touch. We like to know. But the only grounds we have for believing in God's promises is the indwelling of His love and our belief that we are – from all eternity – the subjects of His boundless mercy. To this truth we are vowed to be public witnesses, to give testimony without fear or shame.

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