Monday, September 12, 2016

"YOUNG MAN, ARISE."


Homily for Sept. 13th, 2016: Luke 7:11-17.

          Can there be anything more tragic than parents having to bury a son or daughter? The tragedy is deepened in the story we have just heard by the fact that the mother who must bury her son is a widow, who has no other children. It was a man’s world. Women were the property of men in Jesus’ day: the property of their fathers until they married, then the property of their husbands. The Commandment, “Thou shalt not covet,” lists a man’s wife among the things one must not covet. With her husband already dead, and now her son as well, this widow of Nain has no man to speak for her or protect her.

          This tragedy has parallels even in an age of women’s liberation. I remember as if it were yesterday standing as a young priest in a bleak and rocky cemetery in Arizona, where I had just laid to rest beside his long deceased father the only son of a widow named Nellie. Her deep Christian faith strengthened my faith then, and I continue to pray for her today. “There are my two men-folk,” Nellie told me when the prayers of committal were over.

          How could Jesus be indifferent to such grief? We heard in yesterday’s gospel about Jesus healing the gravely ill slave of a Roman military officer, to whom the sick slave was “very dear.” The young man being carried to burial at Nain is no less dear to his mother. Disregarding the Jewish law of ritual purity which said that one must not touch a corpse, Jesus unhesitatingly reaches out to touch the coffin saying: “Young man, I tell you, arise!” Whereupon, Luke tells us, the young man “sat up.” The Scripture commentators tell us that the Greek word which Luke uses for “sit up” is a medical term – hardly surprising when we know that Luke was what passed in those days for a medical doctor. The people who witnessed this miracle respond with the simple but powerful words: “God has visited his people.”

          What better response could we make to this moving story than to pray the words of an old evangelical hymn: “What a friend we have in Jesus / All our sins and griefs to bear! / What a privilege to carry / Everything to God in prayer. / Are we weak and heavy laden, / Burdened with a load of care? / Precious Savior, still our refuge / Take it to the Lord in prayer.”