John 4:43-54 depicts Jesus’ second “sign.” With a causal reading, it’s simply a story of Jesus healing a man’s son. At closer examination, something bigger emerges which I hope will resonate with you.
Many of you write and share with me your journeys. We’ve each come to know the exile of following the voice of God within us. This deep yearning, groaning, or cry within us has an expanding effect. Unfortunately, the institutions in which we find ourselves are not so flexible. The new wine begins to pressurize our old wine skins until some sort of rupture appears. Integrity to this cry requires us to leave.
From the outside looking in, it appears as if you are the problem. It was you who just couldn’t fit in or remain agreeable. You couldn’t cut it. Some event revealed you to be a dissident and so you have been marginalized or put to the sidelines. The old system cannot tolerate the new questions emerging within you.
Welcome to the Exile. Here in the desert, you’ll find your true self. Not the pseudonym your institutions gave you throughout your life, that’s not really you. You aren’t your job title, your income, zip code, denomination, or the people with whom you associate. You’re waking up to knowing who you really are and it’s a painful, lonely process. Face it, you’re the weirdo or outcast now.
But a blessed one.
While your family, community, church, religion or institution may reject you, or diminish you, it’s my hope that you will be comforted as you witness this story playing out in your very life.
“A prophet is without honor in his hometown” (v.44) This statement by Jesus is like a GPS coordinate for his state of being which is exile. People are enamored with externals. Institutions and communities validate performance. His hometown saw him turn water to wine (ch. 2), they had gone to the feast (v.45), and his fame was spreading. Trick ponies are only known by their tricks. Perhaps his community grew up too close to Jesus. They shared his upbringing but missed his life. True loneliness is to be surrounded by friends and family and remain unknown. Ever feel that way?
Returning to Galilee he was welcomed (v.45), so how does that fit with dishonor? Jesus’ own community, family and friends knew what he did but not who he was. They didn’t honor our “value” him, only what he could do for them. It’s the unwelcoming welcome. It’s the external display, perhaps a cultural gesture, which seems nice on the surface that makes the disconnect so loud. It probably felt very fake, or contrived.
When the Royal official comes from Capernaum requesting that Jesus heal his son, Jesus immediately recognizes his motives. “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe (v.48).” John doesn’t record Jesus as having healed anyone so how did this official know that healing was on the menu of possibilities? He saw Jesus as his chance, it was his desperate need to save his child’s life, who could blame him?
Our needs make us self focused causing us to miss others.
Royal officials expect royal treatment. He wanted Jesus to travel twenty-seven miles back with him, but instead Jesus just tells him: “Go, your son shall live (v.53).” This is not a warm engagement with all the formalities, Jesus was not impressed with his position or status. The official was likely wondering if Jesus was just brushing him off. Nonetheless he went. On his way back he ran into his servants who confirmed his son was healed precisely at the time Jesus told him to go.
The grace that bubbles up in this is amazing to me. Jesus meets this guy right at his point of need, and while disappointed, he nonetheless honors the request. It’s like he’s saying, “You came for a treat, well here it is.” Only when he’s miles away does he potentially get a glimpse of who Jesus really is.
To know and be known is the most intimate expression of love. Lovemaking typifies this in the physical sense, but it’s also true in non-physical relationships. Sexuality is diminished when we “take what we want” from others and use them. Throughout scripture our base level of engagement with Jesus is to use him for what we want. This is understandable since we are creatures that must learn how to love. Getting to what Love desires of us means we must get over ourselves.
Jesus exemplifies this with a tremendous move of grace. He holds nothing back. He freely gives of himself and allows others to satisfy their needs. What kind of King serves like this? He knows that once our most pressing needs are satisfied, we will be able to go deeper. All spiritual journeys start by asking for God’s hand, and progress into asking for God’s face. Some never progress and God remains the unknown servant. “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19).
The cry of the exile is one of homesickness. It’s only satisfied by knowing and being known. Every other external thing is empty vapor. The Grace of God to act first is revolutionary. All religions paint God as reactionary, but Jesus flips the script and subverts that idea. By healing the officials son, he demonstrates that he will love us whether or not we learn how to love. He knows the difference between what we think we want, and what we really want, and unconditionally provides both if we but ask.
And that’s where we come full circle. The deep longing, moaning or cry within us turns out to not be us at all. Its the cry of Love seeking a face into which to gaze. It’s the yearning to know and be known. Not to be known as anything other that what we truly are–and whatever we may think that is, it’s the very place where Grace says “go.”
Will we go on with the distraction of our needs or will we stay long enough to welcome love and be known?