10th. Sunday of the Year (C)
(1 Kings 17:17-24; Galatians 1:11-19; Luke 7:11-17)
In today’s Gospel reading we are told of a very significant miracle performed by Jesus when He raised a young man from the dead. What most impresses us today however, is not so much, perhaps, the objective fact of the miracle itself, for we believe Jesus to have been the Son of God made man, One very capable of performing such an act, but the human sympathy of Jesus which led Him to spontaneously involve Himself and perform so striking a miracle with such tender Personal compassion. There are deep and most powerful human emotions involved here which secretly stir-up and evoke our own sympathetic involvement even today. For here was a tragically distraught woman appearing before Jesus: already a widow, her only son -- a young man Jesus called him -- had just died as the promise of the fullness of life had begun to dawn for him and bring some measure of warm hope back into her heart. For a second time now she was walking alone, though followed by a crowd of sympathizers; walking upright in body yet with head bowed and her heart overwhelmed with grief as tears blinded her eyes. She was no longer young in years and, most probably, had little or no idea of her future livelihood and security, let alone of any hope of love and companionship. At the best, the crowd of sympathizers could suggest that she might find herself with some happy memories of friends and family; but would that enable her to face up to a doubly lonely and possibly threatening future?
In such circumstances, was Jesus foreseeing His own mother’s grief and loneliness on Calvary? Possibly.
For, in the course of His public ministry Jesus was compared to, even mixed-up with, Elijah:
Jesus went on with His disciples to Caesarea Philippi. And on the way He asked His disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they told Him, ‘John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.’ (Mark 8:27)
And Elijah was not merely one of the prophets Jesus had remotely heard of, but one whose life and work for the glory of the God of Israel against the wicked queen Jezebel’s worship of Baal He admired, one who – as would be shown at His Transfiguration when Elijah appeared with Moses speaking with Jesus – came readily to Jesus’ mind:
Jesus began to speak to the crowds: Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. All the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if your are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. (Matthew 11:7, 11-14)
Jesus would, therefore, have been acutely aware of the similarity between His present situation and that of Elijah who performed a miracle for the widow of Zarephath grieving for her dead son, as we ourselves have just heard in our first reading
Elijah said to her, ‘Give me your son.’ Taking him from her lap, he carried the son to the upper room where he was staying and put him on his bed ... Then he stretched himself out upon the child three times, and called out to the Lord: ‘O Lord, my God, let the life breath return to the body of this child.’
Now, had Elijah stretched himself out upon the child not only three times, but also in the form of a cross: with the prophet’s outstretch arms and full length body covering those of the child to symbolize the warmth of life being transferred from the prophet to the child by God’s healing goodness and mercy? A great miracle of vindication in Elijah’s time indeed, but in God’s Providence a truly wondrous foreshadowing not only of the crucifixion of Israel’s promised Messiah, but of the life-giving, death-and-sin-destroying, power of His resurrection as the Saviour of all mankind.
After Elijah restored the living child to his mother:
The woman replied to Elijah, ‘Now indeed I know that you are a man of God. The word of the Lord comes truly from your mouth.
The word of the Lord spoken by Elijah was a prophetic word. The word of God in Jesus was salvific, a word bringing salvation for mankind; and such a word, Jesus knew, could only come from His Cross-transfigured heart and soul, blood-drained body and being; it was indeed a word of life from the One Who alone could and would engage and conquer death.
Again, was Jesus at that very moment foreseeing and anticipating His own mother’s grief and loneliness on Calvary? Quite possibly, for we are told that, after His miracle He simply, and quite mysteriously, gave the widow her restored son without any further Personal words of sympathy or encouragement, not even words of blessing. It would seem that this widow’s tragic suffering might well have occasioned in Him what He had not anticipated and to which He could not, at that moment, give any suitable expression for merely human sharing.
Saint Paul wanted to make most clear to the Galatians this aspect of the Gospel message in his letters when he declared that:
The Gospel preached by me is not of human origin. For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ Who died for all, that all those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him Who for their sake died and was raised. (cfr. Gal. 1:11s. + 2 Cor. 5:15)
In other words the Good-News of Jesus was not something as it were cogitated, argued, and proof-read beforehand, for St. Paul; nor was it anything of that nature for Jesus Himself especially on the occasion of this sudden and unexpectedly-most-touching encounter with a grieving mother suffering – so much like His own mother would soon suffer – for her beloved, only, Son.
This meeting with the widow of Nain, this raising of her son from his coffin, bier, of death, was uniquely intimate. Immediately before and, in St. Luke’s narrative, straight after, this incident at Nain, Jesus restored to health the servant of a Roman Centurion and also:
Healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind He bestowed sight. (Luke 7:27)
On these occasions He spoke directly to the attendant crowds. But not here at Nain.
When the Lord saw her He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’
Private words of most sincere sympathy, surely to be heard by her alone who so needed them.
On approaching the dead man’s bier He simply touched the bier to stop the bearers and then addressed the young man himself saying:
Young man, I say to you, ‘arise.’
Whereupon ‘Jesus gave him to his mother.’ Nothing more. All so tender and utterly intimate. The restored son was enough for the woman, she would quite possibly not even have heard words of sympathy about her situation from Jesus; and as we have hinted, any words expressive of His own emotions at that moment were above ordinary human appreciation.
Elijah took up the restored child and, we are told, gave him to his mother. Is that perhaps why St. Luke seems to have been in such a rush to tell us that Jesus likewise gave him to his mother although – according to the actual words describing Jesus’ act of healing – he was still seated in the coffin held by its bearers? Or was that parsimony of words possibly because Jesus, immediately on healing the young man, turned to his mother and with a glance or perhaps a slight gesture of His hand said, with truly sublime humility and sensitivity, ‘There you are good mother, take him’, and left the two together?
Of course, the accompanying crowd could not fail to see and enthuse over what had happened, and they whole-heartedly cried out: A great prophet has arisen in our midst!
Just as the widow of Zarephath herself had done when she exclaimed: You are a man of God, the word of God comes truly from your mouth.
Here at Nain, however, revelation is proceeding and there is something more; not that the people proclaiming realized just what they were saying, but was the Father perhaps once again witnessing to His Son, for all glorified God exclaiming, GOD has visited His people?
God indeed, God-made-man, was visiting His People in Jesus our Saviour Who would be stretched out on the Cross of Calvary for love of men, and Whose death and Resurrection would give life to all those touched by the Gospel of Jesus’ Good News.
That revelatory report of Jesus -- the crucified and risen Lord -- has spread throughout the intervening ages indeed, and has reached us once more this day to refresh, inspire, and comfort us with the truth it brings and the beauty it contains for us. Truth because it is a revelation of the Risen Lord Who was crucified for us, because Jesus is ever the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And Beauty, because (Psalm 27: 4, 13):
One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord ... I believe I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!
Truth guides and sustains, beauty inspires and comforts; so, dear People of God, let us ever seek to embrace God’s Truth in all its Beauty as we hear and strive to understand, embrace and put into practice, the authentic Gospel proclaimed to us in Mother Church, the Immaculate Spouse of her Risen Lord and Suffering Saviour, Jesus Christ.