Sunday, June 2, 2013

Revealing the Great Enemy's Defeat, a Homily for June 9, 2013 -- the Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time -- from Luke 7:11-17


Homily for 6.9.13
LUKE 7:11-17
Tenth Sunday in 
Ordinary Time
Year C










The Lectionary Gospel reading for today brings to us the most extraordinary story. At the beginning of this account St. Luke invokes the very heart of the deepest reality found by all who live within the human condition. Here, the Doctor and Apostle offers us as a case study of the ultimate despair we all face -- the triumph of death.

O death, you great enemy
O death, you savage heart,
You steal our days
You rob our hope
You laugh at our pain
As you close your jaws 
Around our beating breath. 

Therefore, we may say that this account of the death of this man and the grief of his mother -- a widow, is well understood by us all. We have no need of instruction here, do we? At least we have no need for one to instruct us in the art of grief.

Notice how the pericope begins:
Jesus journeyed to a city called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd accompanied him.
Nain is a small village about 8.7 miles southeast of Nazareth. It is mentioned only this one time in the Bible. Interestingly, Nain still exists today, covering a land area of approximately 1,000 dunums -- which is how far you could plow in one day -- with a population of about 1600. 

The pericope goes on to say:
As he [Jesus] drew near to the gate of the city, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was with her.
Why go to Nain? Why take the twelve there, only to be followed by a large crowd? Was Jesus just passing by or did he visit on purpose? Did he go because of the death? After all, Nazareth wasn’t far from Nain, so he could easily have known the family. Perhaps this explains, in part, Jesus reaction to what he witnesses:
When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 
“Do not weep. Do not weep!?” Our first response to a statement like this is, 
“C’mon, get a grip! This woman is a widow. She has lost her husband and now her son. Her grief is profound. She would soon be in desperate straits financially just as much as she is now emotionally. How can anyone say, do not weep?” 


But, wait. As usual, there is more going on here than meets the eye. Jesus, moved with pity (compassion), moves in close to her personal pain. And, as we well know, Jesus’ consolation means more than the, “be warm and be fed,” variety. No, Jesus’ compassion has power; Jesus’ compassion is active and living:
He stepped forward and touched the coffin; at this the bearers halted, and he said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.
Like Lazarus, like Jairus’ daughter, Jesus here confronts that last, great and hateful enemy, and he breaks into its territory, carrying off those death had imprisoned. What an amazing victory! But, we are left with questions. We always are. Why just the widow’s son? Why not the others who died that day? Presumably, there were other deaths in Galilee, so why just this one miracle? Or, why not those we have buried, we wonder.

But, hear this well, besides bringing joy to a widow, this event brings a certain recognition to Jesus’ followers and the crowds, a recognition that something is happening just beyond the scope of their understanding. Through the cognitive fog perception clutches them:
Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, exclaiming, “A great prophet has arisen in our midst, ” and “God has visited his people.” This report about him spread through the whole of Judea and in all the surrounding region.
That is, before the people stands a Prophet of GOD offering to them a different way to understand the world. Through this miracle Jesus points to his own ultimate miracle. By raising this man Jesus engenders within the people the understanding that, in fact, death will not have the final word. But, do they understand what they have witnessed? This moment is a sign-gift to his followers, and us too, that the status quo is not the real reality, but did they and do we get it?

O, brothers and sisters, to faith the way revealed by Jesus is to believe that one finds life through the Son -- the Son who is also Jesus of Nazareth. It is to find that Jesus the Son and the Prophet brings one true life, real life, abundant human life, and eternal life. It is to find that all who walk the narrow way that Jesus offers -- the way of sacrificial love and reconciling forgiveness -- finds within the world in the here-and-now a humanness that cannot be truly understood but only experienced. And, finally, to follow Jesus, to believe on him, is to be promised part of GOD’s own life when Jesus appears again, a life that includes a return of GOD’s good world to what it was meant to be all along. 

Is all this more than we can hope for? 

We ask this because we still feel this widow-woman’s pain, do we not? We have all been there. Walking beside a coffin; guts ripped out and body numb with grief. We hope, sure, or we try to do so. In our best moments we believe, but, still, the pain, still the sorrow, still the losses that mount higher and higher.

At this point of the discussion I am always reminded of the Patriarch, Abraham. When GOD cut the Abrahamic covenant with him, GOD promised unconditionally to bless Abraham with land, descendants, blessings for the world, and a son. Great. So, here’s the question: Which promise did Abraham received in his lifetime? The answer: Only the son. Listen to how the writer of the book of Hebrews describes this:
12 And so a whole nation came from this one man, Abraham, who was too old to have any children -- a nation with so many people that, like the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them.13 All these faithful ones died without receiving what God had promised them, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed the promises of God. (Hebrews 11:12-13a)
They died without receiving what had been promised!” Did you get that? They died in faith, only seeing it “from a distance,” and yet they still “welcomed the promises of GOD”!

This is the heart of today’s story for us because today’s story offers us the true reality of the world, and then it offers us a choice. 

The True Reality
  • The true reality of the world is that death does not have the final word. The true reality of the world is none other than this: 
  • Jesus is the crucified, risen and ascended King of the world, who now works through his Holy Spirit empowered people to foster the reality of his Kingdom that has come and will one day be completed by him at his return. 

The Choice:
  • Will we believe that at the heart of the world is a good GOD who loves the world, who joined us in our pain, who comes close to our sorrow, understanding it personally, and who is determined to overturn the hate and greed and violence and death of this world at war with itself!

Notice how Jesus comes to the widow. Notice how he moves toward her grief and joins her sorrow, and how he is not repelled by it. Notice how the Son comes to stand with her. Jesus does the same for us today. 

Of course, not everyone is healed; not everyone sings the song of the miracle -- God has visited his people. But all may know his comfort; all may find his loving presence and his eternal mercy.

Earlier we shared part of a poem, but we did not share the ending. Let’s hear both parts now as we close:

O death, you great enemy
O death, you savage heart,
You steal our days
You rob our hope
You laugh at our pain
As you close your jaws 
Around our beating breath.

But, hear O death our loving confession.
We do not fear your approach,
Jesus the Son our defender
Has rendered you, 
Jesus the King has delivered you
without strength
without struggle
without hold on
our beating breath.
We are forever free
And we rejoice.



________________________________

LUKE 7:11-17
Jesus journeyed to a city called Nain,
and his disciples and a large crowd accompanied him.
As he drew near to the gate of the city,
a man who had died was being carried out,
the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.
A large crowd from the city was with her.
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;
at this the bearers halted,
and he said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!”
The dead man sat up and began to speak,
and Jesus gave him to his mother.
Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, exclaiming,
“A great prophet has arisen in our midst, ”
and “God has visited his people.”
This report about him spread through the whole of Judea
and in all the surrounding region.