Helping Someone Suspicious

Monday, Janaury 23, 2012 — Week of 3 Epiphany, Year Two

Phillips Brooks, Bishop of Massachusetts, 1893

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 945)

Psalms 41, 52 (morning) 44 (evening)

Genesis 14:(1-7)8-24

Hebrews 8:1-13

John 4:43-54

Word of Jesus’ return to Cana in Galilee reached Capernaum, a town on the lake, about eighteen miles from Cana. A royal official traveled from Capernaum to Cana to see Jesus. This royal official would have had a position in the service of Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee who ruled there for forty-two years, including throughout Jesus’ ministry. It was Herod Antipas who arrested and executed Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist. John had publicly condemned Antipas for his marriage to his half-brother’s wife. There is a place in Luke’s gospel where a group of Pharisees warned Jesus that Herod Antipas was plotting to kill Jesus as well.

The encounter between the royal official and Jesus is interesting. One wonders if the official might have taken some risks in approaching Jesus on behalf of his dying son. Some among Jesus’ group might have suspected some sort of trap. Is this official up to something that would lead to Jesus’ arrest? Don’t follow him back.

It turns out to be a legitimate request. The man’s son is ill. Jesus honors his request, telling him, “Go; your son will live.” It is important to John to say that the man “believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way.” During the eighteen mile journey home, he was met by servants with the news that the child took a turn for the better at the hour of the conversation with Jesus.

Jesus does good without recourse to the relative merit, or lack of merit, of the royal official. He did not reject the man because he was a servant of Herod Antipas, despite the cruel treatment to John. Jesus did not lecture or correct the man, or demand that he cease his service to Antipas. Jesus did not refuse the heal the child because of the questionable status of the father. (That might be something to reflect on the next time a Christian legislator introduces a policy recommendation to restrict public medical or educational funds to children whose parents have immigrated here without having gone through the nearly impossible business of being legal about it.)

Amazing generosity. Jesus offers compassion to the royal official of Herod Antipas. He heals the man’s child. How might that instruct us in the way we relate to those who misuse their power and authority? How might that inform us about our attitude toward our enemies?

P.S. I’ll be taking off a couple of week from Speaking to the Soul. I’ll be away meeting my new grandson.

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