Come Down Before My Son Dies

Updated: Feb 8, 2019

The nurse placed the grey thermometer into Kellan's armpit as he did regularly. Only ten days after being born seventy days too early, his weight was low, but now his temperature was too high. Into the night covered room, my square clock blinked 2:00 am as the phone rang. "Kellan is showing a fever, so we are running some tests," said the NICU doctor. My wife and I went back to sleep unprepared and unaware of what would unfold.

Seven hours later, in the Intensive Care Unit, the doctor pulled us into a private office. Turning towards a computer, he pointed to the x-rays showing little bubbles surrounding Kellan's intestines. "Your son has developed Necrotizing Enteroclitus. It is a terrible disease that we can not prevent and we don't know what causes it to happen. We called the surgeon and he's on his way in now. Kellan is too sick to move to the Operating Room, so he is going to do the surgery at the bedside. He may not live."

What was going on? The illusory veil of a controlled life was wrenched from our hands, dropping us suddenly as if at night we tripped on a stick. Just a few days ago, Kellan's twin brother developed a small hole in his lung that threatened his life, but now that seemed insignificant in comparison to this hole. Leaking air from the lungs is much less dire than escaping bile from the bowels. Hardly comprehending the moment's tragedy in the collision of emotions, we were guided to a room to weep privately together. We begged Jesus to "come down and heal our son, for he was at the point of death" (Jn. 4:47).

So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. 47 When 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. 48 Jesus therefore said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went his way. 51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was living. 52 So he asked them the hour when he began to mend, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live”; and he himself believed, and all his household. 54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee. (Jn. 4:46-54)

The Gospel of John describes a miraculous encounter between Jesus and an "official." The event unfolds in Cana, where Jesus had turned water into wine at Mary's request. Having heard the rumors, certainly the official must have thought to himself, "if this man can turn water into wine, then he can turn sickness into health!" If Jesus is able to change water that nourishes our bodies into wine that rejoices our hearts, which are two substantially different things, then certainly he can restore the fullness of health that we should have by nature! The former is miraculously changing nature, but the latter is simply restoring to fullness what has been lost. So "he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death" (vs.47).

"Sir, come down before my child dies," pleaded the official. The man who gives orders to other men, and they listen, begs a man who gives orders to nature- and it listens. Jesus indeed comes down to meet his sorrow, saying, "Go; your son will live." The man departs, "believing the word that Jesus spoke to him" (vs. 50). One thing among many that we can take away from this encounter between The King of Kings and the official among men is that Jesus, indeed, comes down to us.

The official begs Jesus to come down to Capernaum to heal his son. He thinks Jesus needs to be in the same location as his son to heal, but Jesus is not spatially limited. With a word, he can heal the sick son. He can do so from a distance, but he longs to be close. He desires to be near each one of us. Just as "the word became flesh" once in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, so God desires to abide with us in and through the Holy Spirit. After Jesus rises from the dead, he says to Mary Magdalene: "Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father" (20:17). Immediately following this, "on the evening of that same day," Jesus appeared in a locked room and breathed on the disciples. "Receive the Holy Spirit," he says (20:22). Just as God breathed into the nostrils of Adam the breath of life, so Jesus breathes into the disciples life again. Indeed, "in him was life, and that life was the light of men" (1:4). Jesus longs to come down to us and abide in us. As my lungs fill with air, so I am fully alive when the fullness of life, God Himself, dwells fully within.

The Father, who so loved the world, does not desire to heal from a distance, but longs to heal from within. He desires to be close to us, to come down to us. That this is the case, the official went on his way believing the word that was spoken to him (4:50). Certainly, the loving gaze of Jesus stirred the official's heart as he knelt, begging before the Lord, that he went away believing. The eternal deep of the Father's love called upon the bottomless deep of longing in the official's heart (Ps.42). We do not believe simply of our own accord, but rather his love stirs within us to the effect that we believe. Such believing is always the effect of the Spirit having come down to us first. It is put in other words like this: "We love because he first loved us" (1 Jn. 4:19).

As my wife and I begged Jesus for the life of our son, we experienced hope. As Fr. Peter-Michael Prebble writes, "The classical definition of hope would be the assurance of the good outcome of our lives lived by faith in God. In hope we have a conviction that our lives built on that faith in God will produce fruits. Hope brings us confidence even in this world of darkness and sin. It is also the confidence that the light of the loving God will bring us forgiveness and also brings us the help that we cannot do on our own" (1). Kellan was not healed in the sense that all broken was fixed, but he was saved. Jesus, indeed, came down to meet us in our sorrow, just as he had with the official. He comes down to us with gifts of peace, trust, hope, and endurance. Such gifts encourage our hearts to face the greatest of challenges without giving up. He does not come down to us only to leave us, but rather to remain with us. The question we ultimately need to ask is Will I go down to meet Him who comes down to meet me? Moments of great desperation and tragedy are moments of blessing. In them we learn that He "puts down the mighty from their thrones and exalts those of low degree. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty" (Lk. 1:52-53).

(1) Prebble, Fr. Peter-Michael. "The Theological Virtue of Hope," Jan. 2009.

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