In today’s reading, we learn that Jesus healed the son of a royal official by merely declaring it. This is not the only time in the Gospels where Jesus performs a sign or wonder for a person without that person being physically present (cf. Matthew 8:5-13). What we should note from this is the evident power of God at work. However, before this Jesus comments “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”
On the one hand, it seems like this is a lament. I can certainly picture it that way, especially given the interaction later in His ministry where Jesus tells the Pharisees they will be given the sign of the prophet Jonah (Matthew 12:38-42). That Jesus had given many other good reasons to believe the proclamation of the gospel, reasons that should have been evident to attentive listeners might be what is in view at this point in John’s gospel. The situation seemed to be that people had reduced Jesus’ ministry to only be about signs and wonders. Many did not seek Him for His own sake, but only for what could be done for them. They did not turn to Jesus with their hearts and minds. They only thought of Him when they needed something. Of course, we should always go to the Lord with our needs. Yet, it is not only at those times we should seek Him.
On the other hand, Jesus’ statement might also be understood as a truism about the situation He encountered. Hardened as they were by sin and false expectations, the people would simply not believe that God had come among them without signs and wonders. It might be that Jesus does not so much lament this as acknowledges it and continues with His mission of grace upon grace.
Another thing to note in this passage is the persistence of the official. He first asks for his son to be healed. Jesus makes the “Unless you see signs…” remark. The official asks Jesus again. There is something to persistence in prayer. It is not as if we are bugging God or annoying Him with our repeated requests. But I think God does desire us to persist in prayer, to continue praying steadfastly even when He does not give us an answer. The process of sanctification and growing in relationship with the Lord during our prayer may be what is desired for us. We may get an affirmative answer after a long time, or we may get a negative answer to our requests. But we still get a good spiritual outcome no matter what.