‘YOU’RE SURE YOU’RE not too tired. John?’ says Archippus. ‘We were very late getting you to bed last night after the Breaking of Bread and worship.’
‘I’m fine,’ says the Apostle. ‘Barnabas and Ezra let me sleep in this morning and I’ve just had both breakfast and lunch combined.’
‘We ought to invent a name for that,’ says the young Greek. ‘Akraston, perhaps … akra from akratismos, breakfast; and ston from ariston, lunch.’
‘Akraston – brunch! Well, I can’t see that catching on,’ replies John. ‘Now do stop chattering and get me into the shade under my olive tree.’
Once the Apostle is settled, and the Elder has moved close by, at the ready with his pen, ink and parchment, John picks up his narrative where he had ended it two days earlier, just before the beginning of Sabbath.
‘I’ve told you what happened at Jacob’s well,’ he says, ‘and how that led to us breaking our journey north from Jerusalem with a two-day stay in Sychar. Well, after that, we continued into Galilee. I know Jesus would have preferred to go back south to Jerusalem; and why wouldn’t he? As the “Son of David” he regarded Jerusalem – the “City of David” – as his city; it was “his own country.” But, as he himself used to say, “A prophet has no honour in his own country,” so he understood his rejection by those in authority there and knew he would have to steer clear of it for a while. I heard Jesus quote that same proverb about Nazareth, by the way, which is where he had been brought up [Matthew 13:57; Mark 6:4; Luke 4:24], and Nazareth is, of course, in Galilee; but Jesus knew that, in Galilee generally, he would very likely be welcomed – at least by those Galileans who, like us, had been in Jerusalem for Passover and had seen him in action.’
‘Are you talking about the day he overturned the tables of the money-changers and set the sacrificial animals loose?’ asks Leandros, noisily sucking on a very ripe and juicy pomegranate.
‘Well, there was that,’ replies John. ‘Galilee always had more than its fair share of trouble-makers and always tended to side with anyone who would take on the authorities. But his popularity in the area was mainly due to his miracle-working. I haven’t said much about that, but those who’d gone to Jerusalem for the Feast had seen Jesus perform some extraordinary healings and exorcisms, and now, of course, they had spread the word back home and everyone was eager for more – and no more so than around Cana which is where we were heading. It was there, of course, that Jesus had turned the water into wine, and no one was going to forget that in a hurry.’
‘I’ll say! What was it – 120 to 180 gallons? They were probably still drinking it,’ quipped Barnabas.
‘That’s as maybe,’ says the Apostle. ‘But my story is not about water into wine, but it is about another “sign.” It’s another story – quite a short one actually – that points to the underlying reality of who Jesus is and why he came and what he is doing in the world. It is about an event in time which points to eternal truths.’
‘And what was the event?’ asks Ezra.
‘It concerned a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum,’ says John. ‘When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.’
‘A royal official – a basilikos,’ says Ezra. ‘What do you mean by that?’
‘Galilee was then ruled by one of the Herods,’ replies John. ‘Herod Antipas. He was never given full kingship by Rome, but people referred to him as the king of that territory. And this man whose son was dying was a courtier – part of Herod’s entourage – and a man of very high standing. So, you’ll appreciate that it was quite something for a person of his status to travel twenty miles up into the hills to keep pleading – you’ll notice I used the imperfect tense of the verb to beg, the man was very persistent – to keep pleading for help from someone known locally as “the carpenter from Nazareth” – a nobody in the eyes of high society.’
‘It must have been because he was desperate and because he’d heard of Jesus’ miracles and was prepared to try anything,’ says Archippus.
‘You’re right,’ says John. ‘And indeed, Jesus was beginning to realise that miracle-working had its downside. It had caused problems in Jerusalem [John 2:23] – people of no faith and with no understanding of who he was, professing belief in him just because they’d seen blind men see and lame men get up and walk – and now he could see that it was going to cause problems in Galilee too. That’s why, as he looked at the man and the crowd that had gathered round him, he said, rather sadly, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe.”’
‘So, was he refusing to help?’ asks Leandros.
‘It might have seemed that way,’ says John. ‘But maybe Jesus was testing the official – seeing how in earnest he really was. If he’d had no real expectation that Jesus would heal his son, he would simply have said something abusive to Jesus, got back in his chariot, and told the driver to take him home. But he didn’t. He said, “Sir – Kurie, come down before my paidion – my little child – dies.”’
‘Kurie!’ says Archippus. ‘That was a strong title for a member of the nobility to give to a member of the peasantry. It could even have meant “Lord” or “Master,”’
‘It could,’ says John. ‘And Jesus certainly seemed to take it as an indication that the man was, there and then, putting his trust in him and that his faith was no longer based merely on the accounts of past miracles that had reached him. Instead, the royal official’s faith was now grounded on the nature and authority of the person in front of him; and, recognising this, Jesus response was immediate. “Go,” he said, “your son will live.”’
‘All the stories you’re telling us are about Jesus being the giver of new life,’ says Barnabas. ‘At the wedding [John 2:1-11], he became “the life and soul of the party” by turning water into wine and thereby pointing to what he could do in people’s lives; in the temple [John 2:13-22], he declared himself to be one who, through death, would be raised to life as a living temple in whom all could enjoy the presence of God; in the olive grove [John 3:1-21], he offered new birth and new life to Nicodemus and all who would put their trust in him; at the well [John 4:1-42], he gave the water of life to the woman of Samaria and made her a well of life for others; and now, in this story, you say he brought life to the official’s son who was on the point of death.’
‘Indeed,’ says John. ‘Physical life to the official’s son, but spiritual life to the official himself and to his whole household. What happened was that the man took Jesus at his word and departed. And, we later heard, while he was still on the way back down to Capernaum on the lakeside, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. And when he asked them what time his son had got better, they told him, “Yesterday, at the seventh hour – one in the afternoon; that’s when the fever left him.” Then the father realised, of course, that that was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So, he and his whole household – wife, children, slaves, and others who lived and worked in his home – believed. It was, as I say, the second sign Jesus performed in Galilee – the second pointer to who he was and what he came to earth to do.’
‘I wonder how his conversion went to down with Herod Antipas?’ says Ezra.
‘I believe it caused quite a stir. Certainly, Herod then became very interested in Jesus and wanted to see him perform miracles [Luke 9:7] – and his interest continued until the very end [Luke 23:8]. But that’s not part of my Gospel; I’ll continue my version of the Good News after we’ve eaten this evening …’
9. The Woman at the Well | 11. The Healing at the Pool