Today's Gospel finds Jesus newly arrived from Samaria, staying in Cana, the town in Galilee where He worked His first miracle. A verse or two before what we read at Mass, Saint John mentions that Jesus was in the north country because He had had difficulties with the authorities in Jerusalem -- "a prophet is without honor in hhis own country." He had left Judea, the land of His birth, to preach in and around His adopted homeland of Nazareth.
Paradoxically, Jesus' reputation, gained by His work in Judea, went before Him to the towns of the north. The Jews were a mobile people, often spending the times around the important Jewish holy days at the temple in Jerusalem. So, a number of people who lived in Cana had heard Jesus preach and work miracles in the holy City.
Now it is said that our Lord was a most impressive preacher, impressing many with the simplicity of His speech and with the authority with which He spoke. The parables He told presented God's law and God's love in terms that even the most common man could understand; stories that related to the everyday existence of ordinary people. And even though He was not one of the priest of the Temple or one of the ruling Pharisees, and even though He possessed no formal training in the Mosaic Law, He spoke as one whose word could not be anything other than true.
But human nature being what it is, it is safe to guess that Jesus' miracles left the most lasting impression on people in the crowds, and even on the more sophisticated members of the educated and ruling classes. Judaism had heard good preachers before in the prophets -- men like Elias, Elijah, and Isaias. It had even witnessed a few miracles performed by such preachers. But it had never witnessed the sheer number of miracles worked by our Lord; curing sick person after sick person, even raising a few from the dead -- it had never before seen thousands of people fed with bread and fish produced miraculously in the desert. And our Lord appeared to work these miracles with His own power, unlike the prophets of the Old Testament who clearly relied on the power of prayer to almighty God -- in fact, Jesus was beginning to be accused of blasphemy; of claiming to be God, Who, of course, He was, but which He rarely mentioned in the early days of His ministry. So it was not very surprising when Jesus arrived in Galilee, many turned out to see the "wonder worker."
His comment about the people "not believing unless they saw signs and wonders" is directed to the crowd (it is in the plural in the original), and not particularly to the man who came to plead for the life of his little boy. The official had traveled from Cepharnaum, a journey of many hours from the north shore of the Sea of Galilee -- an unlikely journey for an important man to make in person unless he had some expectation of success. Certainly, Our Lord was not being critical of a man who made a great effort in hope of obtaining the cure of his loved one.
What our Lord was complaining about was the tendency of the crowd to follow Him more in hopes of being amused by His "signs and wonders" -- almost as though they thought He was putting on a show, instead of simply demonstrating God's compassion on the sick and the hungry. The miracle of feeding five thousand people comes only two chapters later in John's Gospel, and causes the people to want to proclaim Jesus King! Probably more than satisfying any hunger they had, they perceived Jesus as someone who could lead them against the Romans, using His great powers to defeat these enemies and drive them from the Promised Land. They certainly did not understand that the multiplication of the loaves was both God's compassion at work, and a demonstration of how Jesus could claim to give us the Bread of Heaven, His flesh for the life of the world. But people being as they are, they wanted a King to free them from the invaders, and gave little thought to the possibility of a King who would reign under the appearance of a wafer of bread, waiting for His subjects to visit Him in the tabernacle.
The royal official went away believing what Jesus promised Him. Like the Roman Centurion, he too was a man subject to authority; one who understood that Jesus could "just say the word and his son would be healed." Still, he must have been anxious -- and he must have felt great relief when he encountered messengers from home, telling him of the son's recovery, "Yesterday at the seventh hour … the very hour in which Jesus said to him 'Your son lives.'" And, not surprisingly, his faith was increased, and he and his entire household believed in our Lord Jesus Christ.
For us today, the message is similar. Our Lord reigns in the Mass and Sacraments; a humble King who has compassion on His people and wants to feed them with the true Bread of Life; Who wants to free them from the illness of sin. He wants us to recognize that these simple Sacraments are by far His greatest miracles. We may never an apparition of our Lord or Lady; these are reserved to a tiny few. We may never see anyone resurrected from the dead, or even miraculously cured from a more mundane illness. We may never see loaves and fishes multiplied in the desert.
But, far greater than any cure or resurrection of someone's body, we witness the resurrection of the soul whenever we attend a Baptism, or whenever we make a Sacramental Confession. We see souls that never had (or lost) the life of God in them, raised through sanctifying grace to become temples of the Holy Ghost. Far greater than the loaves and fishes, we see the distribution of the Eucharistic Bread of Life to thousands and even millions of people throughout the world -- each receiving Christ in His entirety wherever Mass is celebrated and Holy Communion is distributed.
The lesson for us today is to not seek "signs and wonders." Certainly, it is okay to ask God for the health of our friends and family -- to ask Him to keep us safe from material as well as spiritual harm. But our Faith must not be based on spectacle; not on any kind of show that we might ask our Lord to put on for us; not on miracles that God may or may not grant to us. For the greatest miracles in creation are those which Jesus Christ left permanently for us as we wait in the world.
Take advantage -- as regularly as possible -- of those miracles which raise our souls to life and feed them with the Bread of Heaven. Pray every day, and attend Mass and receive the Sacraments as often as possible. Don't be searchers after "signs and wonders" but seek after the Lord where He may be found.