The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Homily: 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C)

Been There, Done That... (Sunday, June 9)

Readings: 1 Kg 17:17-24; Ps 30; Gal 1:11-19; Lk 7:11-17

As we hear the Gospel read each Sunday, we encounter several movements, threads that run from beginning to end. Each is like the plot-line of a novel, but of course in the Gospel we encounter truth, not fiction.

Now, in today’s Gospel passage from Luke we find several of these threads intersecting with the others. The first and perhaps the most obvious thread is the Gospel story itself: the journey Jesus makes from the moment of the Incarnation through His public ministry, and on to His passion, death and Resurrection. It’s a story of fulfillment; the realization of all the prophecies, of all the foreshadowings that fill the Old Testament. 

Elijah prays for the widow's son
And so it’s no mystery why the Church includes the story of the prophet Elijah among today’s readings. For in this story we see an almost perfect foreshadowing of the miracle in today’s Gospel passage. Elijah calls on the power of God that, through him, the poor widow’s son might be brought back to life. In the Gospel, Jesus seems to accomplish the same thing: another poor widow’s son is brought back to life.

But a foreshadowing in the Old Testament doesn’t point to a mirror image of itself; no, it always points to something greater. For example, in our first reading Elijah must call on and rely on God’s power – “O LORD, my God, let the life-breath return to the body of this child” [1 Kg 17:21]. But that’s not all. Elijah commits himself body and soul, literally stretches himself out on the dead child; and by doing so foreshadows something much greater. For in this act we get a glimpse of Jesus becoming one with us, becoming one of us, matching us body to body. He takes on the wholeness of our lives, our illnesses, our sorrows, even our death.

And then Scripture tells us: “The LORD heard the prayer of Elijah; the life breath returned to the child’s body and he revived” [1 Kg 17:22]. But there are other differences. And Elijah, the prophet, points to something else, something far greater. For, unlike Elijah, Jesus calls on no one but Himself: “Young man, I tell you, arise!” [Lk 7:14] Yes, unlike the prophet, Jesus relies only on His own authority, and by doing so reveals His divinity to all who will accept it.

And here we encounter a point on a second, parallel thread running through the Gospel, a thread of revelation, a revelation of exactly who Jesus is, a thread that reveals to all the divinity of Jesus Christ. Although His divinity is proclaimed from the very beginning – Indeed, Mark begins his Gospel by saying, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God” [Mk 1:1] …but like the apostle Thomas most of us still need to see to believe. And so Jesus, throughout His ministry, tells us and shows us. Through His Word and His works we, too, come to see and to believe.

A third thread that winds its way through the Gospels is perhaps less obvious because we’re so focused on Jesus, we don’t always notice the others who populate the Gospels. This thread follows the movement of the disciples, their coming to knowledge and understanding over time. For most of them it’s a slow, often erratic movement, full of fits and starts; but the disciples, too, move ultimately to the truth, thanks to the Holy Spirit. It’s a movement to faith, to hope, to love.

As we watch the disciples move toward this understanding, we notice others: some are indifferent; some are intrigued and follow Jesus for a time, until He teaches something they can’t accept; and others, why they reject Jesus outright.

Although this rejection of Jesus is not particularly surprising, Jesus’s message certainly was. Filled with hope, His message also forced people to recognize their sinfulness…and most of us don’t care much for that. Yes, Jesus can always be counted on to say some surprising things. Indeed, they’re more than just surprising; they go against the grain of the world; they’re truly counter-cultural.

In today’s Gospel passage He approaches a poor widow as she walks alongside the coffin containing her only son’s body. She’s in tears. Not only does she grieve for her dead son, but she grieves also for herself. For who will take care of her now? And what does Jesus say? In effect, “Stop crying.” [Lk 7:13]

As a deacon I’ve conducted my share of funerals and vigils, and I’ve spent time with many tearful people who have lost loved ones. But I’ve never been tempted to tell one of them, “Now, stop crying.”

As faithful Christians, we know all our sorrows will ultimately be turned to joy. As the Book of Revelation tells us: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning…” [Rv 21:4]  But until that day comes, we experience those sorrows, and we shed those tears.

If you’ve ever spent time with a loved one or friend as they were dying, you know how difficult it can be. You wish you could just reach out and touch them and heal them, to ease their suffering, to bring them back to physical wholeness, so they can stay with you and continue to be a part of your life. Can you imagine the sense of pure joy that such a miraculous healing would bring?
Jesus raises the widow's dead son

Well, in today’s Gospel passage that’s exactly what happened.  “Do not weep,” Jesus says to the grieving mother. And then, without giving her a chance to respond, he does the miraculous and gives all of us a taste of the joy we can expect.

But what was the effect on those who witnessed this miracle? According to Luke, fear seized the crowd; and rightly so. You and I would be afraid as well. For the dead simply don’t come back to life. And then Luke goes on to tell us, “they glorified God” [Lk 7:16] for who else could do this? Yes, they were sure this was God’s work. They just weren’t sure how Jesus fit in.

Interestingly, Luke gives us two responses. Some apparently saw Jesus as another Elijah and spread the word that, “A great prophet has arisen in our midst.” But others, it would seem, believed they had witnessed something greater, and proclaimed: “God has visited his people.” [Lk 7:16]

And with that the work of evangelization began: “This report about him spread through the whole of Judea and in all the surrounding region” [Lk 7:17]. Yes, God has visited His people, and brought us a message of hope.

“Don’t you see who I am?” He asks us all. “I am the way and the truth and the life” [Jn 14:6]. And the life I offer you is eternal life.

I will carry you out of the darkness if only you will let me.

I will free you from the prisons of your own making, from your fears, your sorrows...from your sins.

Come to me and exchange the darkness for the light of Christ.

“When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ He stepped forward and touched the coffin.” [Lk 7:13-14]

Brothers and sisters, no matter what darkness might overcome us, the Lord Jesus enters the darkness. He touches the coffin. He touches the wood. He receives the nails. He cries out in despair, just as we often do the same.

Jesus, you see, has been there. He enters into the darkness, our darkness. And on some glorious day He will call us into the Light…the Light of a New and Everlasting Life.

You can count on it.

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