John 4: Fathers, man.

Fathers, man.

At the end of John 4, there’s a weird little section headlined in verses 46-54 by a father, a royal official, whose son is sick. I honestly thought it was maybe one of the few stories that shows up in all four gospels, but it turns out that it’s unique to John, though in other gospels, Jesus heals the daughter of a synagogue official (Mark), the child of a foreign woman (Luke) and a servant of a Roman centurion (multiple gospels). So even if this story is unique, there’s a motif that echoes.

And in other gospels, Jesus also complains that people will only believe in him if he does tricks – er, miracles – which is clearly not the point of Jesus’ ministry. But in the other gospels, that happens in other contexts. 

What’s unique here, and not in a great way, is the timing. Father of sick child approaches and says, hey, my son is really sick. Can you heal him? And that’s when Jesus launches into the “You people” thing, huffing that it’s so disappointing that guys like this need a miracle in order to believe in Him. Fathers, man.

Generally, I’ve always thought Mark’s Jesus was the most churlish; he berates the apostles (who, ahem, HE picked) for all sorts of shortcomings there. But this Johannine story tucked into the back of John 4 doesn’t seem like Jesus on his best day.

Were it me, were I the dad, the thought process would go like this:

  1. My kid is in trouble and might die
  2. I have no good options to help
  3. This quirky dude is allegedly able to work miracles
  4. I’ll ask “Will you heal my kid?”
  5. He tells me I should believe in him separate from the miracle I just asked for, but he might as well be speaking Arabic to me, because I’m only listening for “yes”, and that doesn’t sound like a yes
  6. He finally says yes
  7. It works
  8. I honestly don’t care if he said I was a dullard or a crappy guy or a scumbag or a Duke fan for not believing in him separate from the miracle because
  9. My kid is ok.

And I said “were it me” but let’s face it, I really mean “when it’s me.” Are you any different?

I can’t say why John’s Jesus chooses that moment of a father’s vulnerability to go off on the show-me nature of our limited belief. Were I Peter (who got it wrong so often, but always with gusto), I would have likely said, “Dude, read the room. There’s a time and place to be huffy.”  While I know intellectually that the Gospels were written to audiences who came later, who never got to see Jesus’ live show, and who had to rely on faith without magic tricks, really, I’m with the dad. There’s a time and place to lecture, and this isn’t it.

Maybe parents cared less about their kids then, but I doubt it. Maybe Jesus is just worn out with the transactional way people treat him, like a vending machine rather than a savior. Maybe he knows, looking ahead, that his Father may not intervene for Him in quite the same way Jesus is being asked to jump in for this guy, though that’s definitely not John’s point.

All I know is, fathers, man. If their kid is in desperate enough straits, they’ll try and put up with just about anything to get to yes. Which, if you believe that we are all kids of the Father, maybe explains some things.

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