Wednesday, June 1, 2016

"GOD HAS VISITED HIS PEOPLE."

10th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Luke 7:11-17
AIM: To show Jesus’ special love for the weak and poor, manifested in his concern for the widow of Nain – the love available to us today.
 
Two processions meet. The first is a procession of death. It is led by the pallbearers of a young man who has died before his time. His grieving mother is a widow; she has already buried her husband. Now she must bury their only son as well.
This procession symbolizes life=s tragic side. What is more tragic than a widowed mother having to bury her only son? This procession also reminds us that we must all die some day. Not all of us, however, will live a normal life span. Some will die, like this widow=s son, before our time; cut down in our best years, leaving behind us unfulfilled hopes and grieving loved ones.
The widow in this first procession is particularly tragic figure. In a society without the safety net of the modern welfare state she symbolizes, like all widows in Holy Scripture, the forsaken, the marginalized, the poor. The procession in which she walks is a picture of human misery and hopelessness.
The second procession is different. It is led by Jesus. He is accompanied, Luke tells us, by his disciples and a large crowd. A procession of hope? So it might seem. In reality, however, this too is a procession of death. For Jesus is bound for Jerusalem, the city where he will die. Unlike the death of the widow=s son, however, Jesus= death was foreseen, and freely accepted. More than once on his way to Jerusalem Jesus emphasized that he went there voluntarily, to lay down his life of his own free will. AThe Father loves me for this,@ Jesus says in John=s gospel, Athat I lay down my life to take it up again. No one takes it from me; I lay it down freely.@ (10:17f)
How could Jesus continue his journey, knowing what lay ahead? He could do so only because of his trusting faith in his heavenly Father=s love. That love was celebrated in the ancient prayers of Jesus= people, the psalms. Jesus started learning them in the synagogue school a Nazareth. He knew many of them by heart.  He would recite one of those psalms as he hung dying on the cross: AMy God, my God, why have you forsaken me?@ B the opening words of Psalm 22. It opens on that note of desolation, but closes with words of serene confidence in God=s powerful protection. 
The psalms speak often of God=s protection. AI will extol you, O Lord,@ we read for instance in psalm 30, Afor you drew me clear and did not let my enemies rejoice over me. O Lord, you brought me up from the nether world; you preserved me from among those going down into the pit. ... You changed my mourning into dancing; O Lord, my God, forever I will give you thanks.@
Did Jesus pray that particular psalm as he journeyed to Jerusalem? We cannot know. We do know that it was the faith which the psalms repeatedly express that enabled Jesus to continue his journey.    
Those who followed Jesus that day at Nain did not know, as he knew, that they were walking in a procession of death. By the time they found this out, Jesus= followers had dwindled to a mere handful. At the moment of his greatest need the Aall forsook him and fled@ (Mark 14.50). Only his mother and a few other women followers were present at Calvary, along with Athe disciple whom Jesus loved@ (John 19:26) B deliberately left unnamed, many Bible commentators believe, so that he can stand for the ideal disciple at all times and in all places. 
Because of Jesus= trust in his heavenly Father=s protection, the city of his death became also the city of his new, risen life. Jerusalem was the site of Calvary, but also of the empty tomb. Taken together, as they always should be, the cross and the empty tomb proclaim that death is vanquished, that life is not meaningless, as the widow=s procession at Nain seemed to say. 
In today’s first reading we heard the prophet Elijah invoking God’s power to raise the son of a widow in a place called Zarephath. At Nain Jesus does more. Elijah prayed, invoking God=s= power. Jesus acts, wielding God=s power himself. Touching the litter, Jesus says: A>Young man, I bid you get up.= The dead man got up and began to speak. Then Jesus gave him back to his mother.@ Jesus thus shows himself to be the life-giver. It is no accident that Jesus exercised this divine power on behalf of a widow, the symbol, as we have seen, of helplessness and poverty. Concern for outcasts and the poor is a special theme of Luke=s gospel. We encounter this theme first in this gospel in Mary=s hymn of praise on learning that she is to be the mother of God=s Son: AHe has put down the mighty from their thrones, and raised the lowly to high places. The hungry he has given every good thing, while the rich he has sent empty away.@
In his gospel Luke emphasizes that Mary=s son, Jesus, was especially kind to outcasts: tax collectors (7:29), prostitutes (7:37), lepers (17:12-19). When Jesus heals the servant of a Roman military officer, he shows that his compassion embraces even a representative of the hated military government of occupation. And the raising of the widow=s son at Nain is an example, among many others, of Jesus= special concern for women B in a society which treated them as second class citizens: the property at first of their fathers, and later of their husbands. 
The carpenter=s son and wandering rabbi whom we see in the gospels, walking the dusty roads of Palestine, is the same Lord we encounter here in the Eucharist: in his holy word, in the sacrament of his body and blood. Do you want to experience his love and compassion B like the widow at Nain; like the Roman officer pleading with Jesus for the life of his gravely ill servant boy? Then show Jesus your need. Show him not your successes but your failures; not your strength but your weakness; not your victories, but your defeats.
The Church, in one of its most ancient prayers, teaches us to approach God in this way. In the previous version of the first Eucharistic Prayer we used to pray: AThough we are sinners, we trust in your mercy and love. Do not consider what we truly deserve, but grant us your forgiveness.” The new translation prays: “To us, also, your servants, who though sinners, hope in your abundant mercies, graciously grant some share and fellowship with your holy Apostles and Martyrs … and all your saints; admit us, we beseech you, into their company, not weighing our merits, but granting us your pardon, through Christ our Lord.”
It is our need that calls down the Lord=s life-giving, healing power. And what is it that each one of us needs from him most of all? Forgiveness! Ask for that, and you too will experience Jesus as the life-giver. Like the people at Nain so long ago, you will be filled with wonder and gratitude, and say with them: AGod has visited his people.@
I need thee every hour, most gracious Lord;

no tender voice like thine can peace afford.  
Refrain

I need thee, O I need thee;

every hour I need thee;

O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee.


I need thee every hour; stay thou nearby;

temptations lose their power when thou art nigh.

(Refrain)




I need thee every hour, in joy or pain;

come quickly and abide, or life is vain.

(Refrain)

 

I need thee every hour; teach me thy will;

and thy rich promises in me fulfill.

(Refrain)

 

I need thee every hour, most Holy One;

O make me thine indeed, thou blessed Son.

(Refrain)