Today’s Gospel gives us the second of five signs in the Gospel of John in which he sheds light on unbelief and faith in the revelation of Christ as the Messiah. In this Gospel, the ruler goes from no faith, to an imperfect but wonderful faith, to a great faith.
We must think that at the beginning, the man had no faith. Our Lord seems to refuse his request that He heal his son. He says, “Unless you see signs, you will not believe.” What he did have was an actual grace, a prompting to seek our Lord. His son was ill, he loved him, he was attached to him. He may have heard of the miracles our Lord did in Cana and in Jerusalem. This is how we come to faith. When we meet the new catechumens, we ask them, “What brought you to the Church?” It is often a crisis, a difficulty. “I was going through a hard time.” It does not look like an actual grace, but it is a prompting then, to seek faith. And they have heard, through a friend, family member, co-worker, about our Lord, and that they may put their trust and faith in Him.
The Lord’s delay of the man’s request only served to deepen his faith. But he does not give up. He says, “Come, before my son dies.” The Lord says, “Go, your son will live,” and the Gospel continues, “The man believed in the word the Lord had spoken to him.” He has faith. It is an imperfect faith. He is still motivated by his need of a cure for his son. But he persevered. And it is a wonderful faith. He walked all that way, from Cana to Caparnaum, over a day’s journey, with no other assurance than the word the Lord had spoken to him. St. Paul, in the Epistle, speaks of our way of faith as walking. And this is what he means. That against all the uncertainties, difficulties, even doubts in life, we walk confident in the word our Lord has given to us, in the sacraments, in the Church. It may not yet be a perfect faith, but it is a wonderful faith, and a powerful faith. Our Lord spoke His word of healing for the ruler’s son. How pleased the Lord must be to see us walking in this way.
By the time the man nears home, he is met by his servants who tell him his son has been healed. He asks, “What time did he get better.” His faith is still imperfect. He is wondering if his son’s healing was accidental, or if it came from the Lord. They give him the hour the Lord had given His word. And now he has a great faith. The Gospel says, “He knew.” He knew that it was the hour the Lord had given His word. And the Gospel continues, “And He believed, him and his household.” When the word is used in the intransitive, “he believed,” it speaks of firm faith. When John saw the empty tomb and the wrappings lying on the ground, the Gospel says, “He saw, and believed.” All of us have a faith like this. All of us can recognize times when God has touched our lives or our circumstances. We may not be able to explain it, but no one can convince us differently. We know that this is the work of God.
It is helpful for us to consider what is not faith. The Pharisees demanded of our Lord, “Show us a sign, and then we will believe.” But the very premise of the request reveals their blindness. The signs were there, but they could not see them. Faith comes first, and love. Love wishes to reveal oneself to the beloved. Faith and love come first, and then we see the signs everywhere.