9th June 2013. 10th Sunday of Year C.
1 Kgs 17:17-24. Elijah restores the widow’s son to life. As a result the widow recognises Elijah as a true man of God and a prophet.
Gal 1:11-19. Paul insists that the Gospel which he has preached is not his own invention but comes from a revelation of Jesus Christ.
Lk 7:11-17. Jesus restores to life the only son of a widow at Naim. The people recognise him as the one in whom “God has visited his people.”
First Reading: 1 Kings 17:17-24
After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. She then said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!”
But he said to her, “Give me your son.” He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. He cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.”
The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.” So the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”
Second Reading: Galatians 1:11-19
For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.
But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother.
Gospel: Luke 7:11-17
Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.
Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
#Our Need Of Salvation
(1) Visitation. It is said that saints are hard to live with for they have had a gift of seeing into people’s hearts and consciences. Perhaps our guilt shrinks from the encounter, as the widow did from the famous Elijah. If God were to visit us for judgment it would indeed be something to fear. But he visits us through becoming one of us, hiding his majesty. In Luke’s gospel we sense the joy brought by this “visiting God.” “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited his people” to save them from their sins.
(2) Nain. In the story Jesus takes the initiative; the widow offers only her unspoken need. Jesus acts with such concern and sensitivity that the approach of God’s power, though it provokes awe, arouses also praise and faith. If this could be the manner of God’s approach to us always! Yet that is precisely Luke’s message. Jesus is the image of the Father, sharing in action the love of the Father for us. We only have to place our need of salvation before him. He approaches the spiritually needy as mercifully and with as much concern as the physically needy. Jesus sorrows for human wretchedness, and the only thing he cannot overcome is a refusal to acknowledge the need of God’s salvation.
(3) Response. Like the widow we must know that we are in need. We cannot save ourselves. “Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21.) We must weep for our sins, for our indifference, our lack of perseverance in good intentions, our helplessness to heal the ills of the world around us. God is “visiting” us every day of our lives through Jesus, the risen Lord, coming close to us in love and concern. Jesus visits us especially in the Eucharist. We are called first to accept the gifts of life that he gives us, then to praise him joyfully for the gift. We do not have to be in the charismatic movement to do that.
Some prefer to reject God’s approach or simply disbelieve in Him. Jesus weeps over Jerusalem in sorrow that its response is so poor (Luke 19:44.) Our lives are the poorer if we don’t realise that Jesus has the same love and concern for us that he showed for the widow of Nain and her son. That is a sort of conversion, of turning towards God, that we look for in the Mass. “Lord, come to me; visit me in your love and stay with me always.”
The Bereaved Widow
Following the healing of the centurion’s servant comes the raising of the widow’s son. Jesus was following in the line of the great prophets having power, as did Elijah, to bring back people from the dead. The narrative makes much of the tragic nature of the situation: “…a dead man being carried out, the only son of his mother and she was a widow.” Unlike Elijah, Jesus is not asked to intervene; it is his own compassion which moves him. Also in contrast to Elijah, there is no dramatic prayer or accompanying gesture, just the words to the young man. The people’s response is to recognise the fact that, in Jesus, God has visited them, that is, has shown them his saving love.
It might seem irreverent to compare today’s liturgy to the flashing, multicoloured lights at a disco. But there is a similarity. God’s love for us is a many-splendour thing.” A few of its numberless facets flash out from the texts of this Mass. We can catch a glimpse of some of its characteristics. God’s love is life-giving, supporting, compassionate, transforming, healing. It touches individuals, it radiates to vast multitudes. That is the comforting message from our Celebration.
Bereavements figure in two of today’s readings. They point to an area in which we could be channels of God’s compassionate and healing love. Elijah did something to help the grieving mother. Jesus was moved with compassion at Nain. He performed a miracle and turned mourning into joy. These stories are more then reports of past events. Christ is present. He has spoken to us in the gospel. When he speaks he expects a response. On this Sunday, what is he asking of us? He asks us to introduce him to somebody who is in particular need of his compassionate, healing presence. We have heard the word of the Lord. Has the message been received and understood?
Very often our expression of sympathy is just a momentary feeling, but grief lasts longer than the funeral. When we are bereaved we need ongoing after-care. Sustained sensitive contact with the sorrowful demonstrates loving concern. More importantly our gesture can enable the broken-hearted to experience for themselves that our God is the Father who wipes away tears from all faces.
A Mother’s Tears
There is a story attributed to Oscar Wilde, which takes up where today’s gospel ends. It runs something like this: One year later, Jesus came once more to this town called Nain, accompanied by his disciples and a great number of people. When he was near the gate of the town it happened that there was a woman sitting on the roadside weeping bitterly.
When the Lord saw her he felt sorry for her. “Do not cry,” he said. Looking up, the woman saw Jesus standing there and· began to weep even more loudly. “Why do you weep so?” Jesus asked the woman. “Because of you,” the woman answered. “I curse the day I met you when I was burying my only son and you brought him back to life. Now I wish he was dead.” “Why do you speak so?” Jesus asked the woman. The woman answered, “When my son came back to life, his fame spread throughout Judaea and all over the countryside. Many people came to do him homage. Before, he had been a dutiful son to me. Now, his head was turned and he squandered all my savings on wastrels and harlots who fawned upon him, abandoning me on the wayside with neither son or home.” When Jesus heard these words he was astonished and, turning round, said to the crowd following him, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found ingratitude like this.”
The moral of this story, according to Wilde, was that nobody, not even God, should interfere in other peoples’ lives. Wilde’s theology fell far short of his undoubted literary skills. In the gospels there is no miracle which is futile, trivial or unwholesome. Nor are there miracles which inflict punishment on anybody. Christ’s miraculous intervention in our lives, albeit extremely rare, is always benign. In the case of the bereaved widow, the gospel expressly mentions that “he felt sorry for her.”
His motive was to heal her pain, not to replace it with another. The motive of this miracle was compassion: its message was God’s victory over death. All the miracles of Jesus are the prelude to his own resurrection, which was the decisive triumph of the power of God.
Personal and profound suffering would bring Oscar Wilde deeper insights into the compassion of God. Falling from grace, the once literary lion of glittering London society became a social outcast, committed to Reading gaol. In his prison cell, he began to wonder: For who can say by what strange way Christ brings his will to light. In the humiliation and desolation of his imprisonment, he came like the widow of Nain to experience the compassion of God:
Ah! happy they whose hearts can break and peace of pardon win.
How else may man make straight his plan and cleanse his soul from sin?
How else but through a broken heart may Lord Christ enter in?
And he of the swollen purple throat and the stark and staring eyes,
Waits for the holy hands that took the Thief to Paradise;
And a broken and a contrite heart the Lord will not despise.