10th Sunday Year C 2016
The events in the First reading and the Gospel reading today bear a remarkable resemblance; separated in time by over 800 years. Both tell the story of the death of the only son of a widow who is brought back to life by God; the first through the intervention of the Prophet Elijah and the second through Jesus.
The first reading reflects an Old Testament understanding of God’s relationship with his people and his actions in their lives. In the Hebrew Scriptures, they believed that God had to be the cause of everything. If God caused something bad to happen, God had a reason, and that reason must be punishment for sins.
The widow in her grief and anguish following the death of her young son, holding him in her arms, accused Elijah of being the cause of the boy’s death as God’s messenger in retribution for her sins. And Elijah in his prayer over the dead boy asks God “Have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son?” The poor widow you will recall had given Elijah food, shelter and a place of safety.
Have we too not at sometime lashed out at God when trying to find some reason for a loved one’s suffering or death? Or our own suffering or hardship? We search to find understanding or perhaps reason to blame someone, often God, for allowing evil to happen in the world and in our lives.
Some believe that God allows these evil things to happen to bring about some future blessing or compensation.
So was God personally responsible for the death of the widow’s son; taking vengeance for her sins? What a monstrous idea! And yet we still encounter this ugly personification of God today – in total contradiction to what Jesus told us about God the Father.
We hear people use phrases like “It’s God’s will” or when a child has died “God called the child because he needed another angel in heaven.” Nonsense! God is sufficient and has no need to take our children from us. I know these phrases are often used to try and bring comfort to the grieving but I think they are unhelpful in trying to understand and build a relationship with a loving and merciful God. Thoughtless phrases like these are just as likely to turn people away from God.
God does not cause nor inflict misery and suffering on we, his beloved, who are created in his image. We ourselves are the greatest cause of human misery.
It is not the will of God that some political despot start a civil war that results in the death, suffering and displacement of many thousands of men, women and children. It is not the will of God when we smoke, eat and drink too much and end up with serious health problems. It is not the will of God that we pollute the environment and exterminate entire species of life. And surely it’s not the will of God when someone drinks too much, gets into a motorcar and kills people on the road. It is not the will of God that a parent should experience the pain of losing a child. God the Father knows that pain all too well.
Jesus reveals a God of infinite love and compassion.A God who wants to heal and make whole. Jesus didn’t ever make a healthy person sick or blind to teach the people of Israel a lesson.Imagine how differently the parable of the Prodigal Son would have ended if the father was a vengeful, unforgiving, bitter man (which would have been the expectation of the people at that time). That was the whole point of the parable – to reveal aloving and forgiving Father God; loving and forgiving beyond reason. .
In the Gospel reading Jesus is just outside the town of Nain having walked from Capernaum where he had healed the Centurion’s slave the day before; it’s a fair walk – about 48 kms.
He and his large group of followers arrived at the city gate as a funeral procession was leaving the city to bury a young man; the only son of a widow. We’re told Jesus had compassion on her and tells her not to weep. The word for compassion that is used in the original text describes a deep, raw emotion of mercy.
Notice that she didn’t even speak to Jesus; perhaps she didn’t even know who he was. Jesus sees her and he understands and feels her grief and pain.
When the dead man sat up and began to speak the people were at first frightened but then their fear turned to awe and wonder and they rejoiced glorifying God. William Barclay in his commentary on this event in Luke’s Gospel says “Jesus claimed for life a young man who had been marked for death. Jesus is not only the Lord of life; he is the Lord of death who himself triumphed over the grave and who has promised that because he lives, we shall live also.”
Fr Daniel Lanahan, a contemporary Franciscan theologian, in his book ‘When God says No’ writes that “The evil in the world doesn’t come from God. Jesus came to save us from all the evil, not by removing it or explaining it away, but by embracing it and conquering it. When tragedy strikes, the Spirit of God is present to help us accept and transform it into our salvation. Whether the tragedy stems from our free will or from a source outside our control (earthquake, flood, terrorism) God’s way of answering our prayer is the always available, victorious presence of grace.”
When bad things happen to people we love, God wants to be there, in and through us.
In our caring response to the suffering of others, we are the healing touch of Christ in the world. We bring the promise and hope of eternal life to those who can see only death and despair.
Who is it that needs our love,our prayers and our healing touch today?