In today’s gospel reading, Jesus performs his second sign in Galilee during his encounter with a royal official from Capernaum. When requested to make the journey to heal the official’s son, Jesus says, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” The official persists that Jesus come, but Jesus tells him to go since his son will live. The official meets his servants on his way back, to hear that his son had been healed around the time Jesus released the official. Witnessing this sign, his entire household comes to believe.
Understanding the context of the royal official helps us understand his desperation in the story. First, the official’s child is very sick, beyond the help of high-quality medical help, to which the royal official would have access. It would also be unthinkable for someone in that position in the Roman government to seek someone in Jesus’ status. If that weren’t enough, the distance from Capernaum to Cana was over 15 miles, and was taking this official almost a day to travel or more. This means that this official took this long journey himself to ask for Jesus’ help. With that level of desperation, the royal official persists for Jesus’ help. I wonder what Jesus was thinking about in this moment. Is he annoyed? Perhaps he is feeling empathy for the official’s desperation. Jesus could be wondering if this official deserves such a sign since he shares in the government’s act of marginalizing his people. We cannot say definitively from the text, but Jesus does decide to heal the official’s son.
In my multiple renditions of reading the passage, I found myself asking, “What are you thinking, Jesus?” There are so many of his people around Jesus who must need help but he decides to help someone from the Empire who’s probably benefiting from subduing the Jews. What would his people say, and what would his own family say? But Jesus sees simply beyond what I would consider to be the fairest discrimination of denying someone in the oppressor group—Jesus saw the desperation and willingness to believe. In his empathy and pity, Jesus decides to heal this royal official’s child.
It seems like in our incredibly complex and intertwined world, many of us end up involving ourselves with the oppressor groups like this official. We end up in financial investments in companies that benefit off of the poor and/or damaging the environment, or we help further causes that disproportionately benefit the rich and those in power. While we should align our lives in the way that would minimize these involvements to our best ability, it can be difficult and also weigh down on our hearts. The good news here is that Jesus does not abandon us still. When we petition in our desperation and willingness to believe, Jesus empathizes with us and may decide to shine us a light through which we can walk into new life. This commitment obviously should not be taken lightly just as what the official demonstrates in the text. However, this empathetic Jesus, especially in this entangled world we live in, is certainly good news to me.
—Yonghoon Yoon. HS Math Teacher. Mentor, advocate, and fan of students.