In the first reading, prophet Isaiah gave hope to the Israelites who had just returned from exile to a new beginning. “Thus says the Lord: Now I create new heavens and a new earth, and the past will not be remembered, and will come no more to men’s minds. I shall rejoice over Jerusalem and exult in my people. No more will the sound of weeping or the sound of cries be heard in her; in her, no more will be found the infant living a few days only, or the old man not living to the end of his days. They will build houses and inhabit them, plant vineyards and eat their fruit.” Such a message of hope of a new beginning certainly was uplifting for the people who had just returned from exile and was starting to rebuild the kingdom from scratch. By providing them with a vision, the people could then work with confidence towards realizing the dream that God had for them.
This same promise is also made to us all. God wants to give us a new life and a new beginning as well. For those of us who are struggling in our faith, in our illness, a failed relationship or uncertainty about our career and business, the Lord wants to assure us that He will lead us. But how can we be so sure that His promise is real and that the Lord will be faithful to His promises? This is where we are called to have faith in the hope that we have before us. Faith is the key to obtaining the promises of God.
Indeed, as we enter the 4th Sunday of Lent, which is the Midway of the Season of Lent, the Church wants us to focus more on our faith in Jesus. Faith in Jesus is a pre-requisite for the Lord to effect transformation in our lives. The gospel began by noting that the townsfolk of Jesus did not accept Him earlier on. “He himself had declared that there is no respect for a prophet in his own country, but on his arrival the Galileans received him well, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem during the festival which they too had attended.” To His surprise, a group of Galileans was happy to welcome Jesus this time, but simply because they saw the work He did in Jerusalem. They saw the signs that He did.
Then when He returned to Cana in Galilee, the Court Official came to the Lord to plead with Him to heal his dying son, the Lord remarked. “So you will not believe unless you see signs and portents!” It seems therefore that the Lord requires us to have absolute faith in Him without the signs of His power. The question is, did the Court Official have faith in Jesus before seeing the signs and the portents? Is Jesus asking from us to make a leap of blind faith in Him without the aid of any signs? Would it not be dangerous if we were to believe in someone whom we have not seen or heard before? Surely, faith requires some signs for credibility; otherwise we might be misled and be deceived into believing because of our naivety. Signs are not proofs. At the end of the gospel passage, we read, “This was the second sign given by Jesus, on his return from Judaea to Galilee.”
What Jesus was unhappy about was not that the man had no faith in Him, rather His remark was directed at His fellow Galileans. They were not just asking for signs to believe in Jesus but they were constantly seeking for proofs. They were not interested in His message and in His teaching, which were more important than the spectacular miracles that He performed. At any rate, Jesus disavowed the use of miracles and powers to prove His identity. Right from the start of Jesus’ ministry, when the Devil sought to make Him demonstrate His power by changing stone to bread or jumping from the pinnacle of the Temple, the answer of Jesus was a firm “no”. “Begone, Satan! for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” (ct Mt 4:1-11) Indeed, the Galileans, like His townsfolk in Nazareth, could not accept Jesus until they saw the spectacular signs. But Jesus would not entertain such people without faith.
However, in truth, the Court Official had already heard about Jesus. He already had the seed of faith. The evangelist remarked that Jesus “went again to Cana in Galilee, where he had changed the water into wine.” The people would have known that Jesus performed His first miracle in that town. He would have been told about Jesus who could heal. So he went to Jesus in faith, asking for the healing of his son who was ill in Capernaum, 33 km away from Cana. This man showed his faith in Jesus’ capacity to heal. Otherwise, he would not have taken the risk to travel 33 km to look for Jesus. Secondly, he was a senior Court Official and it would have been embarrassing for him if the Lord could not heal his dying son. That he would risk his reputation demonstrated his earnest faith in the Lord.
However, his faith was still imperfect. He thought that the Lord would need to come with him to Capernaum to heal his son. “Sir, come down before my child dies.” He had not yet arrived at the perfect faith of the Centurion who on the contrary told Jesus, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed.” (Lk 7:6f) Jesus wanted to help him perfect his faith in Him. So He told the Court Official, “Go home, your son will live.” The Lord wanted the man to have complete faith in Him without Him having to physically go to his son to heal him. It was an occasion for the Court Official to increase his faith in Him.
In total faith, the Court Official believed the Lord at His word. “The man believed what Jesus had said and started on his way; and while he was still on the journey back his servants met him with the news that his boy was alive.” He would have been embarrassed if the Lord did not heal his son. On the word of the Lord, he returned home without having seen his son healed. This is what faith is all about, to trust in the Word of God. His faith was rewarded because the Lord knew when to heal the boy. The Court Official asked his servants, “when the boy had begun to recover. ‘The fever left him yesterday’ they said ‘at the seventh hour.’ The father realized that this was exactly the time when Jesus had said, ‘Your son will live.’” Indeed, the moment we submit in faith, the Lord will work His miracles in us. This is what the Lord asks of us when He said, “Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.” (Mk 11:23)
But this miracle was performed not just on account of the faith of the Court Official, it was to inspire faith in others. We read that because of his total trust in the Lord, “he and all his household believed.” The others, when they heard what the Lord did for him, also came to believe. What inspired the others to believe was not simply because Jesus performed the miracle but also because of the faith of the Court Official. It is important for us to realize that when we have faith, we inspire others to have faith as well. If Jesus had followed the Court Official back to the house to heal his son, the others who would have seen it would certainly be inspired to have faith in Jesus. But in this case, that Jesus could heal from afar, helped them to have greater faith in Jesus; they know now that they need not have Jesus physically present for the Lord to heal them.
Truly, how many of us have this faith of the pagan? Often, non-believers have stronger faith than us believers in the Lord. We receive the Eucharist, which is a sacrament of healing, but still lack the faith that the Lord would heal us. Many of us are still weak in faith. We still need the priest to pray over us directly. We need the human touch, or sacramentals, such as the rosary or holy water, to encounter the Lord’s healing grace. In truth, if our faith is as strong as the Centurion’s or the Court Official’s, the Lord would have healed us too. This is true especially those who stand in proxy to be prayed over for their loved ones. But unless those who are being prayed over have that deep faith in the Lord’s healing grace, the healing grace of God would be impeded. Hence, let us deepen our faith in the Lord first, through believing His word and teaching, before asking for healing.