Monday 4th Week Lent 

PHOTO: LAURENCE FREEMAN

John 4: 43-54: Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.

These are the harsh-seeming words Jesus spoke to the man who came to him and asked him to come and save his dying son. Jesus then told him his son would live and the man went home to find that the boy had recovered at that instant. Magic or faith? This is the question that reveals the true dynamic of this story and all the gospels.

His words to the desperate parent, quoted above, might seem to lack compassion. We might imagine ourselves being pestered to help someone in need and yet feeling we have given out enough for the day. Their intensity however makes us yield and give them what they want; but we haven’t resolved our own feeling of self-protection, the guardedness that always prevents us from making a pure and unconditional gift of self. So we give in but we also, unkindly, throw in a complaint or a criticism as well. OK, I’ll heal your son but it’s about time you stopped asking me for miracles after hours.

It doesn’t feel that this is what Jesus is saying.

The father, like anyone concerned for a loved one in danger, is desperate for a miracle. Even when we have faced the truth and given up false hope, there remains a pocket of desperation where the dream of a miracle never dies. Our need for magic, for manipulating causes and effects from the outside, can even survive despair. Political crisis, economic downturns, fiction and boy wizards all evidence our appetite for the fast food of magical signs and wonders. When things are desperate that is when we most want magical powers.

By his remark Jesus simply exposes this and so frees the father, and us, from the addiction to magical solutions. What flows from him is the power of healing in the full force of compassion. We are saved from our own desperation not by the external signs of magic but from what is already within us, where we are already in touch with the power we project and seek outside ourselves.

Jesus didn’t want people to see him as a magician or even as a messiah. He wanted more, for people to connect with him, to know him, from within themselves. There are also signs and wonders associated with that. But they are not magical. They are the real signs of a wondrous transformation of self, produced by the relationship we call faith.

 
With love
Laurence
 
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