We are always asking ourselves what these Biblical texts say to us, what they mean to us, and what impact they have on us – that is, do they seem to be urging us to revise some idea or ideas we have in our heads, or to take some action that we don’t ordinarily take, or to stop taking some action we do ordinarily take, or what? So in light of John 4:46-54, the text we’re studying for Sunday, July 10, we might especially want to ask ourselves what this text’s picture of Jesus, and portrayal of Jesus’s identity, calls for from us. How does the text portray Jesus’s identity? Who is Jesus, as shown in this story? And then – a more personal question – how do we ourselves need to respond to that identity? Does the response of the “royal officer” and his household give us a model? Or – not? [Some notes on the text are here.] Here are a few additional questions for thinking about this text, or perhaps discussing with others:
What impact do the details in this story have on us? Are there any that seem especially meaningful to us? Why?
[We might want to identify some of those details, and spend some time thinking about them. For instance: Jesus is in Cana, and the royal official lives in Capernaum. So – the distance between Capernaum and Cana, which the royal official travels, what do we think about that? For that matter, that a “royal official” – whatever that means – would make a request of Jesus … does that bring up any thoughts or feelings for us? That the man is asking about a little boy, his son? Etc.]
How do we see this story unfolding in our minds’ eyes, and what difference does that impression make for the way we read this text? Do we notice that we feel close to the action, for example? Or, distant? Or, what? Can we tell why that is?
What’s a miracle, according to us? [We might want to think of examples, or definitions. For instance: does a “miracle” have to defy the known laws of physics? Or, can something that fits within those laws still qualify as a “miracle”?]
Do we call this story a “miracle story”? Why, or why not?
When Jesus says “Unless you-all see signs and wonders, you-all will not believe” – how do we hear what he’s saying there? Does it sound to us like a statement of fact, or a reproach, or … what? Why?
Any implications of the way we read that, for us? What implications?
[More abstract, but also personal] Does faith in God, or Christ, depend for us on miracles and on “good things happening to good people” and “bad things not happening to good people”? Or, more personally, on good things happening and bad things not happening to us?
That is, what do we think the connection is between faith and the avoidance of suffering and “bad things,” like this royal official’s child’s life-threatening illness? If “bad things” happen or “good things” don’t happen, does that shake a person’s faith? Does it shake ours? Should it? Why, or why not?
Overall, because this story seems to be part of John’s project of providing “signs” that support belief in Jesus and Jesus’s identity as the Word, it probably makes sense to spend time thinking about how this story does that, and in particular how it does that for us as readers of John’s gospel.
Image: “The Conversation,” Edgar Degas, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons