Jesus Returns to Galilee
43 When the two days were over, he went from that place to Galilee44(for Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honour in the prophet’s own country).45When he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, since they had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the festival; for they too had gone to the festival.
Jesus Heals an Official’s Son
46 Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum.47When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.48Then Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you* see signs and wonders you will not believe.’49The official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my little boy dies.’50Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way.51As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive.52So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.’53The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ So he himself believed, along with his whole household.54Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.
Anyone who has ever worried over a very sick child will know the state of mind of the royal official who came to Jesus. Of course the gospel writer is telling us of a “sign” or miracle of Jesus. Whether we believe the story as told or not is not really the issue; the writer is telling a miracle story, which is also a sign of compassion. Doubtless royal officials (employees of Herod) were not the most popular citizens in Galilee, but Jesus responds to the human need. And he sets a test. Can the man trust him without seeing a miracle? The answer is yes, he can. The man’s faith is also a miracle; he starts off home with nothing except Jesus’ word to show for his efforts. But when he hears about his son’s recovery he knows that the word he has trusted is the word of life.
Often Jesus’ word is all the believer has. The word that says, forgive, take up your cross, love your enemy, forget your earthly treasure, this word is accompanied by no proof and no justification. It’s only in the act of obedience that the believer finds again that it is the word of life. But trusting the naked word, yes, that’s a miracle indeed.
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The Power of the Gospel
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’*
The Guilt of Humankind
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.20Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse;21for though they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.22Claiming to be wise, they became fools;23and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves,25because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.
Before Paul becomes unsparing about the sins of humanity, he extolls the power of the gospel. It’s important that readers see what Paul actually wrote rather than responding to translations which may have gone dead. “Gospel” for example is a word taken over from the prophet Isaiah that means the “glad tidings” or “good news” of victory in battle, in this case the glad tidings of God’s victory over evil through Jesus’ life and death and resurrection. It always has something of this flavour and is not simply a fancy word for the Christian message. “Salvation” also refers to this victory as a means of rescue, like the victory at the Red Sea. God’s victory in Jesus rescues his people from the power of evil. Paul emphasises that people appropriate this victory by their trust in God: their rescue begins and ends in this trust. It does not require all the paraphernalia of religion, Jewish or Gentile.
Indeed Paul goes on to characterise human sin, but perhaps especially Gentile sin as proceeding from misplaced trust. Instead of placing trust in the creator God, people have trusted creatures and things, worshipping idols instead of the true God. This inversion of trust has led to inversions of human behaviour, especially sexual immorality as Paul sees it. The lectionary does not include the verses in which Paul explains homosexual desire as the consequence of idolatry. We don’t know of course exactly what sort of behaviours he was condemning, but we do need to say that if he was trying to explain homosexual orientation in this way, he was simply wrong. We know that homosexual orientation is not a choice; and is therefore part of “creation”, that is, it is God-given.
We shouldn’t allow this matter to blind us to Paul’s argument. The issue is one of human trust. Trust in the Creator, dignifies and makes our humanity just; trust in idols degrades and makes our humanity unjust. It’s a provocative argument, especially in the face of a fairly general societal acceptance that faith has nothing and should have nothing, to do with ethics.
Perhaps we can use the example of the Roman Catholic clergy to illustrate Paul’s meaning. Of course the clergy are committed to God. But in respect of the rules of celibacy, has there not been a trust in the authority of the institution rather than God? Has not the creator God who made man and woman for each other been abandoned for a barren idol that elevates virginity over sexual love, and obedience to hierarchy over obedience to Christ? And has not this inversion of trust led to manifold inversions of natural sexuality in its clergy?
On the other hand, perhaps we should listen to our Moslem brothers and sisters who point to the ruthless sexual customs of western societies and their image in the media as a daily denigration of human dignity. Maybe these customs are the result of placing an idolatrous trust in sexuality itself.
Of course people can be just without any explicit faith but Paul suggests that human behaviour flows from the fundamental allegiance of the human person: where has she placed her trust? He argues that distortions of truth and justice flow from distortions of trust, an argument that those Italians who voted on Sunday for Silvio Berlusconi may soon wish they had listened to.