(St. Matt. iv. 12; St. Mark i. 14; St. Luke iv. 14, 15; St. John iv. 43-54.)
THE brief harvest in Samaria was, as Jesus had indicated to His disciples, in another sense also the beginning of sowing-time, or at least that when the green blade first appeared above ground. It formed the introduction to that Galilean ministry, when 'the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things that He did at Jerusalem at the Feast.'1 Nay, in some respects, it was the real beginning of His Work also, which, viewed as separate and distinct, commenced when the Baptist was cast into prison.2 Accordingly, this circumstance is specially marked by St. Matthew,3 and by St. Mark,4 while St. Luke, as if to give greater emphasis to it, abruptly connects this beginning of Christ's sole and separate Work with the history of the Temptation.5 All that intervened seems to him but introductory, that 'beginning' which might be summed up by the words, 'in the power of the Spirit,' with which he describes His return to Galilee. In accordance with this view, Christ is presented as taking up the message of His Forerunner,6 only with wider sweep, since, instead of adding to His announcement of the Kingdom of Heaven and call to repentance that to a Baptism of preparation, He called those who heard Him to 'believe the Gospel' which He brought them.7
But here also - as Eusebius had already noted8 - the Fourth Gospel, in its more comprehensive presentation of the Christ, as adding, not merely in the external succession of events, but in their internal connection, feature to feature in the portraiture of the Divine Redeemer, supplies the gap in the Synoptic narratives, which so often read only like brief historical summaries, with here and there special episodes or reports of teaching inserted. For St. John not only tells us of that early Ministry, which the Synoptists designedly pass over, but while, like them, referring to the captivity of John as the occasion of Christ's withdrawal from the machinations of the Pharisaic party in Judæa, he joins this departure from Judæa with the return to Galilee by supplying, as connecting link, the brief stay in Samaria with its eventful results. St. John, also, alone supplies the first-recorded event of this Galilean ministry.9 We therefore follow his guidance, simply noting that the various stages of this Galilean residence should be grouped as follows: Cana,10 Nazareth,11 and Capernaum, with general itineration from that centre.12 The period occupied, by what is thus briefly indicated in the Gospels, was from early summer, say, the beginning of June, to the unnamed 'feast of the Jews.'13 If it is objected, that the events seem too few for a period of about three months, the obvious answer is, that, during most of this time, Jesus was in great measure unattended, since the call of the Apostles14 only took place after the 'unnamed feast;' that, indeed, they had probably returned to their homes and ordinary occupations when Jesus went to Nazareth,15 and that therefore, not having themselves been eye-witnesses of what had passed, they confined themselves to a general summary. At the same time, St. Luke expressly marks that Jesus taught in the various Synagogues of Galilee,16 and also that He made a longer stay in Capernaum.17
When Jesus returned to Galilee, it was in circumstances entirely different from those under which He had left it. As He Himself said,18 there had, perhaps naturally, been prejudices connected with the humbleness of His upbringing, and the familiarity engendered by knowledge19 of His home-surroundings. These were overcome, when the Galileans had witnessed at the feast in Jerusalem, what He had done. Accordingly, they were now prepared to receive Him with the reverent attention which His Word claimed. We may conjecture, that it was partially for reasons such as these that He first bent His steps to Cana. The miracle, which had there been wrought,20 would still further prepare the people for His preaching. Besides, this was the home of Nathanael, who had probably followed Him to Jerusalem, and in whose house a gladsome homage of welcome would now await Him. It was here that the second recorded miracle of His Galilean ministry was wrought, with what effect upon the whole district, may be judged from the expectancies which the fame of it excited even in Nazareth, the city of His early upbringing21
It appears that the son of one of Herod Antipas' officers, either civil or military,22 was sick, and at the point of death. When tidings reached the father that the Prophet, or more than Prophet, Whose fame had preceded Him to Galilee, had come to Cana, he resolved, in his despair of other means, to apply to Him for the cure of His child. Nothing can be gained for the spiritual interest of this or any other Biblical narrative, by exaggeration; but much is lost, when the historical demands of the case are overlooked. It is not from any disbelief in the supernatural agency at work, that we insist on the natural and rational sequence of events. And having done so, we can all the more clearly mark, by the side of the natural, the distinctively higher elements at work. Accordingly, we do not assume that this 'court-officer' was actuated by spiritual belief in the Son of God, when applying to Him for help. Rather would we go to almost the opposite extreme, and regard him as simply actuated by what, in the circumstances, might be the views of a devout Jew. Instances are recorded in the Talmud, which may here serve as our guide. Various cases are related in which those seriously ill, and even at the point of death, were restored by the prayers of celebrated Rabbis. One instance is specially illustrative.23 We read that, when the son of Rabban Gamaliel was dangerously ill, he sent two of his disciples to one Chanina ben Dosa to entreat his prayers for the restoration of his son. On this, Chanina is said to have gone up to the Aliyah (upper chamber) to pray. On his return, he assured the messengers that the young man was restored, grounding his confidence, not on the possession of any prophetic gift, but on the circumstance that he knew his request was answered from the freedom he had in prayer. The messengers noted down the hour, and on their arrival at the house of Gamaliel found, that at that very hour 'the fever left him, and he asked for water.' Thus far the Rabbinic story. Even supposing that it was either invented or coloured in imitation of the New Testament, it shows, at least, what a devout Jew might deem lawful to expect from a celebrated Rabbi, who was regarded as having power in prayer.
Having indicated the illustrated part of this story, we may now mark the contrast between it and the event in the Gospels. There restoration is not merely asked, but expected, and that, not in answer to prayer, but by Christ's Personal presence. But the great and vital contrast lies, alike in what was thought of Him Who was instrumental in the cure - performed it - and in the moral effects which it wrought. The history just quoted from the Talmud is immediately followed by another of similar import, when a celebrated Rabbi accounts on this wise for his inability to do that in which Chanina had succeeded, that Chanina was like 'a servant of the King,' who went in and out familiarly, and so might beg favours; while he (the failing Rabbi) was 'like a lord before the King,' who would not be accorded mere favours, but discussed matters on a footing of equality. This profane representation of the relation between God and His servants, the utterly unspiritual view of prayer which it displays, and the daring self-exaltation of the Rabbi, surely mark sufficiently an absolute contrast in spirit between the Jewish view and that which underlies the Evangelic narrative.
Enough has been said to show, that the application to Jesus on the part of the 'royal officer' did not, in the peculiar circumstances, lie absolutely beyond the range of Jewish ideas. What the 'court-officer' exactly expected to be done, is a question secondary to that of his state of receptiveness, as it may be called, which was the moral condition alike of the outward help, and of the inward blessing which he received. One thing, however, it is of importance to notice. We must not suppose, that when, to the request that Jesus would come down to Capernaum to perform the cure, the Master replied, that unless they saw24 signs and wonders they would not believe, He meant thereby to convey that his Jewish hearers, in opposition to the Samaritans, required 'signs and wonders' in order to believe. For the application of 'the officer' was itself an expression of faith, although imperfect. Besides, the cure, which was the object of the application, could not have been performed without a miracle. What the Saviour reproved was not the request for a miracle, which was necessary, but the urgent plea that He should come down to Capernaum for that purpose, which the father afterwards so earnestly repeated.25 That request argued ignorance of the real character of the Christ, as if He were either merely a Rabbi endowed with special power, or else a miracle-monger. What He intended to teach this man was, that He, Who had life in Himself, could restore life at a distance as easily as by His Presence; by the word of his Power as readily as by personal application. A lesson this of the deepest importance, as regarded the Person of Christ; a lesson, also, of the widest application to us and for all circumstances, temporal and spiritual. When the 'court-officer' had learned this lesson, he became 'obedient unto the faith,' and 'went his way,'26 presently to find his faith both crowned and perfected.27 And when both 'he and his house' had learned that lesson, they would never afterwards think of the Christ either as the Jews did, who simply witnessed His miracles, or unspiritually. It was the completion of that teaching which had first come to Nathanael, the first believer of Cana.28 So, also, is it when we have learned that lesson, that we come to know alike the meaning and the blessedness of believing in Jesus.
Indeed, so far as its moral import is concerned, the whole history turns upon this point. It also marks the fundamental difference between this and the somewhat similar history of the healing of the Centurion's servant in Capernaum.29 Critics have noticed marked divergences in almost every detail of the two narratives,30 which some - both orthodox and negative interpreters - have so strangely represented as only different presentations of one and the same event.31 But, besides these marked differences of detail, there is also fundamental difference in the substance of the narratives, and in the spirit of the two applicants, which made the Saviour in the one instance reprove as the requirement of sight, which by itself could only produce a transitory faith, that which in the other He marvelled at as greatness of faith, for which He had in vain looked in Israel. The great point in the history of the 'court-officer' is Israel's mistaken view of the Person and Work of the Christ. That in the narrative of the Centurion is the preparedness of a simple faith, unencumbered by Jewish realism, although the outcome of Jewish teaching. The carnal realism of the one, which looks for signs and wonders, is contrasted with the simplicity and straightforwardness of the other. Lastly, the point in the history of the Syro-Phoenician woman, which is sometimes confounded with it,32 is the intensity of the same faith which, despite discouragements, nay, seeming improbabilities, holds fast by the conviction which her spiritual instinct had grasped - that such an One as Jesus must be not only the Messiah of the Jews, but the Saviour of the world.
We may as well here complete our critical notices, at least as concerns those views which have of late been propounded. The extreme school of negative critics seems here involved in hopeless self-contradiction. For, if this narrative of a Jewish courtier is really only another recension of that of the heathen centurion, how comes it that the 'Jewish' Gospel of St. Matthew makes a Gentile, while the so-called 'anti-Jewish,' 'Ephesian' Gospel of St. John makes a Jew, the hero of the story? As signally does the 'mythical' theory break down. For, admittedly, there is no Rabbinic basis for the invention of such a story; and by far the ablest representative of the negative school33 has conclusively shown, that it could not have originated in an imitation of the Old Testament account of Naaman's cure by Elisha the prophet.34 But, if Christ had really spoken those words to the courtier, as this critic seems to admit, there remains only, as he puts it, this 'trilemma:' either He could really work the miracle in question; or, He spoke as a mere fanatic; or else, He was simply a deceiver. It is a relief to find that the two last hypotheses are discarded. But, as negative criticism - may we not say, from the same spirit which Jesus reproved in the courtier - is unwilling to admit that Jesus really wrought this miracle, it is suggested in explanation of the cure, that the sick child, to whom the father had communicated his intended application to Jesus, had been in a state of expectancy which, when the courtier returned with the joyous assurance that the request was granted, issued in actual recovery.35 To this there is the obvious answer, that the explanation wants the first requirement - that of an historical basis. There is not a tittle of evidence that the child expected a cure; while, on the other hand, the narrative expressly states that he was cured before his father's return. And, if the narrative may be altered at will to suit the necessities of a groundless hypothesis, it is difficult to see which, or whether any, part of it should be retained. It is not so that the origin of a faith, which has transformed the world, can be explained. But we have here another evidence of the fact, that objections which, when regarded as part of a connected system, seem so formidable to some, utterly break down, when each narrative is carefully examined in detail.
There are other circumstances in this history, which require at least passing consideration. Of these the principal are the time when the servants of the court-officer met him, on his return journey, with the joyful tidings that his son lived; and, connected with it, the time when 'he began to do nicely;'36 37 and, lastly, that when the 'court-official' applied to Jesus. The two latter events were evidently contemporaneous.38 The exact time indicated by the servants as the commencement of the improvement is, 'Yesterday, at the seventh hour.' Now, however the Jewish servants may originally have expressed themselves, it seems impossible to assume, that St. John intended any other than the Roman notation of the civil day, or that he meant any other hour than 7 p.m. The opposite view, that it marks Jewish notation of time, or 1 p.m., is beset by almost unsurmountable difficulties.39 For it must be borne in mind, that, as the distance between Capernaum and Cana is about twenty-five miles, it would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the courtier, leaving his home that morning, not only to have reached Cana, but to have had the interview with Jesus by 1 p.m. The difficulty is only increased, when we are asked to believe, that after such a journey the courtier had immediately set out on his return. But this is absolutely necessary for the theory, since a Jew would not have set out on such a journey after dusk. But farther, on the above supposition, the servants of the court official must have taken the road immediately, or very soon after, the improvement commenced. This is itself unlikely, and, indeed, counter-indicated by the terms of the conversation between the courtier and the servants, which imply that they had waited till they were sure that it was recovery, and not merely a temporary improvement.40 Again, on the theory combated, the servants, meeting the 'courtier,' as we must suppose, midway, if not near to Capernaum, would have said, 'Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him,' meaning thereby, that, as they spoke in the evening, when another Jewish day had begun, the fever had left him on the afternoon of the same day, although, according to Jewish reckoning, 'yesterday,' since 1 P.M. would be reckoned as the previous day. But it may be safely affirmed, that no Jew would have so expressed himself. If, on the evening of a day, they had referred to what had taken place five or six hours previously, at 1 P.M., they would have said: 'At the seventh hour the fever left him;' and not 'Yesterday at the seventh hour.'
It is needless to follow the matter further. We can understand how, leaving Capernaum in the morning, the interview with Jesus and the simultaneous cure of the child would have taken place about seven o'clock of the evening. Its result was, not only the restoration of the child, but that, no longer requiring to see signs and wonders, 'the man believed the word which Jesus had spoken unto him.' In this joyous assurance, which needed no more ocular demonstration, he 'went his way,' either to the hospitable home of a friend, or to some near lodging-place on the way, to be next day met by the gladsome tidings, that it had been to him according to his faith. As already noted, the whole morale of the history lies in this very matter, and it marks the spiritual receptiveness of the courtier, which, in turn, was the moral condition of his desire being granted. Again, we learn how, by the very granting of his desire, the spiritual object of Christ in the teaching of the courtier was accomplished, how, under certain spiritual conditions in him and upon him, the temporal benefit accomplished its spiritual object. And in this also, as in other points which will occur to the devout reader, there are lessons of deepest teaching to us, and for all times and circumstances.
Whether this 'royal officer' was Chuza, Herod's steward, whose wife, under the abiding impression of this miracle to her child, afterwards humbly, gratefully ministered to Jesus,41 must remain undermined on this side time. Suffice it, to mark the progress in the 'royal officer' from belief in the power of Jesus to faith in His word,42 and thence to absolute faith in Him,43 with its blessed expansive effect on that whole household. And so are we ever led faithfully and effectually, yet gently, by His benefits, upwards from the lower stage of belief by what we see Him do, to that higher faith which is absolute and unseeing trust, springing from experimental knowledge of what He is.