As we journey together through Lent, Christians throughout Columbia will be sharing their own beautifully written personal meditations. Each will be accompanied by a corresponding scripture reading, and be linked to that passage in the Holy Bible. If you would like to join us on Columbia’s Lenten journey, please submit your personal meditation by email. Especially meaningful submissions will be printed. Let us continue our Lenten journey, day by day, to its glorious culmination on Easter Sunday.
Scripture reading: John 4: 43-54
Jesus’ Long Distance Miracle and Anna Karenina
When I first read this passage, I was struck by what appears to be its contrary messages. A royal official has traveled eighteen miles from Capernaum to the city of Cana in Galilee to ask Jesus to come to his house in Capernaum to heal his dying son. Jesus tells the man that, “unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” The nobleman again implores Jesus to heal his son, and Jesus tells him that his son will be healed. When the nobleman completes his eighteen mile return journey home the following day, he finds not only that his son has recovered, but that the fever left his son at the exact hour when Jesus told him that his son would live.
I could not help thinking that even though it sounds as if Jesus is telling the nobleman that he would not have faith in the signs and wonders, the nobleman is rewarded within twenty-four hours of his request with one of the greatest miracles that can be encountered in this earthly world – the healing of a loved one when medicine appears to offer no hope of a cure.
Upon doing some further study, I learned that a royal official in Capernaum, the nobleman, was a highly ranking official in the Jewish government. More importantly, when Jesus said, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe,” Jesus used the plural form of the work you. Therefore, Jesus was not rebuking the nobleman individually, but instead Jesus was referring to His general experience with most Jews of His day, who not only required that they experience miracles in order to believe, but who often continued to not believe, despite hearing of or witnessing Jesus’ miracles.
In I Corinthians 1:22, Paul also refers to Jews demanding signs in order to believe. The nobleman of today’s passage, however, was not like most of the other Jews that Jesus had encountered because John tells us that the nobleman’s faith was in place before he experienced the miracle of the healing of his son.
Our challenge in today’s passage is to be more like the nobleman, whose faith was grounded, and not to demand signs and wonders in order to believe. Of course, our faith journeys would be much simpler if every time we asked something of God, our wish was immediately fulfilled within twenty-four hours as the nobleman’s request was fulfilled. This cannot always be. Instead, we must base our faith on the words of Jesus and open our eyes to the miraculous things that happen around us.
At this point, you may be wondering what the heck Anna Karenina has to do with Jesus’ long distance miracle. There are some remarkable similarities – as well as some interesting differences – between John’s account of the nobleman and Tolstoy’s depiction of a character in Anna Karenina names Levin, whom most scholars believe Tolstoy based on himself. Levin is a nobleman in 1870’s Russia, and his struggle with faith is a central theme in the book. He greatly wants to believe in God because he sees the effect that believing has on many of those around him. Levin pours over the works of the finest religious scholars of the day, but continues to doubt God because he does not think he can see the presence of God in his daily life.
Like the nobleman in today’s passage, Levin is presented with a situation in which his wife and infant son are in grave danger. In the moment, Levin, an unbeliever, had begun praying and, at the moment of praying, he believed. Unlike the nobleman, however, when Levin learns that his wife and child are safe, his doubt in God returns. I can see much of Levin at this point in the story in myself. It is easy for us to rush to God when we have an acute need, but to stray when our feet are on surer ground. It is also easy for us to distance ourselves from God if we ask something of God that is not forthcoming.
In Anna Karenina, Levin’s doubt is erased. Later in the story, Levin is having a most ordinary conversation with a peasant, who in the context of local gossip contrasts two villagers – one who lives only for himself and the other who lives to serve God. At this moment, Levin realized that those are essentially the only two choices that any of us have in this life, and that God is what we should live for, and what it is that is good. Levin now understands that God gives us an unconditional love that cannot be defined by reason or some scholarly work. Unlike most Jews in Jesus’ day, Levin also knows that we cannot demand signs and wonders of God on which to base our faith. In the passage below, Levin described what occurred after he stopped looking for signs and wonders to convince him of God’s existence and instead opened his eyes to the miracle of God around him.
“And I had been seeking miracles; I regretted not having seen a miracle that would have convinced me. And, here is a miracle, the only possible one, everlasting; surrounding me on all sides – and I never noticed it! What miracle could be greater than that?”
Columbia, South Carolina
Columbia Prayer Chain: Tuesday, February 26
In our prayers: Mary Ellen Joiner, Elizabeth Jean Emerson, Mary Reames, Richard Smith, Claudia Strattman, Jennifer Williams, Betty Jo Carson, Gary Davis, Eddie Bolton, Doug and Sharon, John Kelchner, Elizabeth Matthews, Nedrick Griffin, Jennifer Handy, Nancy Stuckey, Annemarie Sullivan, Greg and Lisa Steele, Dean Timothy Jones, Linda Langford, Marty Fritz, Harriet Hancock, Tommy and Robby Palmer, Patty and Ted Mac Laughlin, Janet Long, Bobby Wilson, Debbie and Pat Barry, Patrick and Patricia Barry, Jordan Hill, Doris Clevenger, Charles Sigel, Bob Davis, John Whatley, Nancy Zuckerman, Charles Davis Sr., Bill Carter, Betty Peavy Frick, Joye Cantrell, Dale and Norma Sessions, Padge Arrington, Jerry Callahan, Norman Masters
Special prayers for Mary Ellen’s four-year-old grandson, Joseph Patrick, who is fighting cancer
In memoriam: Norma Lucille Campbell, Mildred Lee Bowers Davis, Lester H. Dent, Richard Lee Green, Robin O’Neal Mock, Paul Pabst
Our prayers are with: the elderly, the homeless, all currently fighting illness, all beloved pets, our president and congress, our police officers and firefighters, all who serve in the armed forces
Columbia Prayer Chain is open to all residents of greater Columbia who would like to share prayers and receive the prayers of others. Please leave your name in the comment box or email me.