So Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.
The Gospel of John is the most mystical of Gospels. By this is meant, lurking behind the earthly scenes John gives us are heavenly realities going on. Let us recall one of the big points of John. It begins with the premise that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God’s Word was embodied in the Person Jesus Christ. Right there is a heavenly reality lurking behind an earthly personage, and that mystery governs the whole Gospel – hence, mystical.
Add to this premise Jesus’ teaching about the Holy Spirit, that He takes what belongs to Jesus, upon His sitting at God’s right hand, and delivers it to us by declaration. What belongs to Jesus but heaven – fellowship with God, eternal life, blessedness, and so on. The Holy Spirit fills our vision with this reality, so that the mystery is revealed by faith in us. We truly see lurking behind earthly things heavenly realities. This, after all, is the theme of the book of Revelation, and the only way we can make sense of the Psalm, “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.”
So, as John reveals the setup for an account, the details matter. Why was Cana of Galilee significant? This was where He turned water into wine. This is where the sign of the new age was first given, where the sweet wine promised of old – wine dripping from the mountains – first began to flow. As such it’s also the beginning of the heavenly banquet. Drinking wine in the kingdom is what happens at the great wedding feast St. John witnessed in the Revelation: “Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’ ”
So Cana is a real earthly place where a real wedding happened and a real Christ provided for a real feast. And it’s really “up” relative to the rest of the Gospel. We recognize this not only from geography – Capernaum being near the Sea of Galilee was lower – but in the text itself. Three times we hear the phrase “come down” or “going down” in reference to where the sick son was.
Because “down” is where the curse is, where the sick and dying are, where those “at the point of death” are. It’s the realm of Hades, where the “ruler of this world” reigns. It’s the realm of darkness into which Christ the light has dawned.
Well, Isaiah 9 promised us that, “By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, In Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined.” This prophecy founds John’s comment twice that Jesus did this sign after coming out of Judea into Galilee.
So Capernaum is “down” relative to Cana. Jesus promised in John 6, “the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” The nobleman seeks this same bread that the Canaanite woman sought when she begged for that crumb. Jesus had said the bread was for the children, and this nobleman was among those children.
Is there something going on with the nobleman “going up” to the place of the wedding feast in order to intercede on behalf of his son? Where else do we know of a man ascending to the place of the wedding feast in order to intercede for his sick and dying sons? And is Jesus’ slight rebuke of the man, for insisting Jesus “come down,” the beginning of teaching on the Holy Spirit’s role? Jesus doesn’t need to come down anymore. He sends the Holy Spirit who delivers gifts by the word, which is exactly the point of this Gospel.
And blessed are those who believe without seeing signs and wonders. We don’t need to see Jesus. We don’t need His local presence. We need His flesh and blood presence as it comes to us mystically, by the Holy Spirit, the bread from heaven, the bread for the children, the bread which gives life to the world.
The Athanasian Creed makes the point that Jesus is one Christ “not by the conversion of the divinity into flesh, but by the assumption of the humanity into God.” Not only are there loads of good stuff here for the theology of worship, but it reflects the tone of Jesus’ dealing with the nobleman. He goes down to bring up, and if “Cana” symbolizes “up,” we should expect the flow of movement to be Jesus staying put in Cana, sending His “Word/Spirit” out to do its work, and bring the nobleman back “up” to him, even as he and his family came to believe in Christ. Were the story to end with Jesus down in Capernaum, and the boy healed, we’d have missed out on that subtle point.
Healing is not the end of the Gospel – signs and wonders don’t save – but faith is. And proper faith embraces the word, leading to an embrace of the One Who speaks that word. The draw is from “down” to “up” at the wedding feast.