“Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe.”
After his conversation with the woman at the well, Jesus stayed in the Samaritan town of Sychor for another two days before continuing on his way to Galilee. The Bible doesn’t say whether Jesus performed any miracles of healing during this time with the Samaritans; instead it indicates that it was the things Jesus said, and not his deeds, which convinced them to believe in him. They themselves testified of this, telling the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
Jesus next came to the small town of Cana, in the region of Galilee. (This was the same place where he had once turned water into wine.) The Galileans also welcomed his arrival, just as the Samaritans had, but their welcome of him was mainly due to the many miracles they had seen him doing in Jerusalem when they were all there for the Passover feast.
The news that Jesus had returned to Cana quickly spread throughout the entire region and eventually reached the ears of one of Herod’s royal officials who lived in the city of Capernaum, a distance of over twenty miles away. This man had a son who was desperately ill and very close to death, so he decided he would make the journey to Cana in order to seek Jesus out and persuade him to come back with him and heal his son. Here is the account of their conversation:
When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death. “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.”
The man took Jesus at his word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.” Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed.
“Unless you people see signs and wonders you will never believe.” – Jesus wasn’t just saying this about the man as an individual, but was actually lumping him in with all of the other Jewish people in the region. The Apostle Paul would later make a similar generalization when he said, “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom.” (1 Cor 1:22) This wasn’t meant to condemn the man, however, for Jesus went ahead and healed his son anyway – and because of that one miracle, the nobleman and his entire household ended up believing in Jesus.
But why would Jesus make such a generalization about the Jews, when they were the very ones whom God had chosen to reveal his glory on earth? Because it was true, that’s why. Nicodemus, the Pharisee, articulated this same somewhat skeptical attitude when he came to Jesus and told him, “We know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Even some of Jesus’s own disciples needed to see a sign before they could really believe. (John 2:11)
We see this pattern repeated over and over again in the gospels. Many sincere Jewish people traveled from all over to see Jesus because they truly wanted to believe in him, but they still needed a sign to complete their faith. Jesus never condemned them for this, instead, he had compassion on them – the blind received sight, the lame walked, the lepers were cleansed, the deaf heard, the dead were raised, and the good news was proclaimed to the poor. (Matthew 11:5)
This is still the case today. God in his mercy reaches out to us as we are; he understands the human heart and he does not punish us by withholding his grace when our faith is weak. If we sincerely seek him, he promises that we will find him. (Jeremiah 29:13)
The Samaritans believed in him because of his words, the Galileans believed in him because of his works, but in both cases the the end result was the same – they believed.