Sunday, June 2, 2013

Homily - 10th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)

10th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)
First Reading: 1 Kings 17:17-24            Second Reading: Galatians 1:11-19            Gospel Reading: Luke 7:11-17


Once a Church had fallen upon hard times. Only five members were left: the pastor and four others, all over 60 years old.
In the mountains near the Church there lived a retired Bishop. It occurred to the pastor to ask the Bishop if he could offer any advice that might save the Church. The pastor and the Bishop spoke at length, but when asked for advice, the Bishop simply responded by saying, "I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you."
The pastor, returning to the Church, told the church members what the Bishop had said. In the months that followed, the old church members pondered the words of the Bishop. "The Messiah is one of us?" they each asked themselves. As they thought about this possibility, they all began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And on the off, off chance that each member himself might be the Messiah, they also began to treat themselves with extraordinary care.
As time went by, people visiting the Church noticed the aura of respect and gentle kindness that surrounded the five old members of the small Church. Hardly knowing why, more people began to come back to the Church. They began to bring their friends, and their friends brought more friends. Within a few years, the small Church had once again become a thriving Church, thanks to the Bishop's gift. The dead Church had come to life again.
Yes, Jesus is the Messiah who rescues and restores all of us back to life. We may not be physically dead, but there are other levels – social, emotional, moral, spiritual etc. that we may rarely be alive in a real sense. Jesus promised to give us life, life in great abundance. So, we joyfully proclaim, “I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.”

Today is the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Usually on Sundays the Church gives us a First Reading that in some way points forward to the Gospel Reading, and today's is a particularly obvious example. Both the First reading and the Gospel story are about the restoration of life.

The First Reading from the Book of Kings tells the story of a woman’s dead son being restored to life. Escaping from a terrible drought and famine, the prophet Elijah came across a widow at the city gate of Zarephath and asked her for a cup of water and a piece of bread. The woman told him that she was just then gathering some wood with which to cook her and her son's last meal. But Elijah insisted with the assurance, "The Lord, the God of Israel, says, 'The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.'" She then did as requested and the Lord's promise was fulfilled. He stayed with them till the end of the famine.
Some time later, the woman's son got sick and died. In no uncertain terms, she took it out on Elijah and blamed him for her son's death. She saw Elijah as a man of God bringing punishment on her former sins. In the face of this, Elijah could have left right away. But moved by her grief, he brought her son's body to his room, laid him on his bed, stretched himself over him, and prayed for the return of his life. It did and Elijah gave him back to his mother. At this, the woman said, "Now indeed I know that you are a man of God." She now sees Elijah truly as a man of God bringing life to his people.

We see something similar happen in the Gospel Reading of today from St. Luke. The story St. Luke recalls is a very striking one, and he tells it with a sensitivity that moves us each time we hear it. Jesus, accompanied by his disciples and a large crowd, is on his way to the city of Naim when he comes across a tragic funeral procession. A young man, the only son of his widowed mother, had died and was being brought out of the city to the cemetery. She was accompanied by a large number of her neighbors to somehow assuage her grief. Moved with compassion, Jesus comforts the unfortunate woman, and stopping the procession by putting his hand on the bier carrying the dead man, he calls him back to life, and gives him to his mother. Seized with fear, everyone glorifies God and exclaims, "A great prophet has arisen in our midst," and "God has visited his people."
This simple story is only one of the three occasions in which Jesus restored a dead person to life, but the restoration of the widow’s son is unique to St. Luke’s gospel. All three synoptics have recorded the raising of Jairus’ daughter and only St. John has narrated the sign of Lazarus. Because the Naim story has been told by St. Luke alone, the reader should be aware of certain Lucan themes and emphases. For example, the fact that the story centers upon a woman, and a 'widowed' woman at that, reflects the evangelist’s penchant for showing Jesus’ concern for the disadvantaged of society. Also, the whole event has been cast in such a way as to recall the same deed as performed by the prophet Elijah in the First Reading. By presenting Jesus in the same light as the ninth century prophet, who had become an eschatological figure connected with the advent of the messiah, St. Luke underscored the actions of Jesus as looking toward the end time and his role as Messiah.

The above two readings of the day have a lot in common – a poor widow, a sad and tragic situation, a young deceased son, restoration of life, and astonishment in Divine presence! St Luke can't possibly have missed the strong similarities between these two stories. However, there are also some striking differences/contrasts between the two stories:
The restoration to life of the dead is a prophetic act of Jesus! However, it is clear in the narrative that St. Luke did not wish to present Jesus only as an Elijah figure. Indeed, the evangelist has stressed the difference and superiority of Jesus’ power by explaining that he healed 'with a word.' There are none of the mysterious rituals (stretching out, breathing, etc.) in Jesus’ simple actions. Moreover, whereas Elijah performed his rite over the boy three times and prayed to God for success, Jesus had power of himself to effect what he willed. While Luke wished his readers to 'remember' Elijah, he did not want them to misconstrue Jesus’ identity. While Elijah was anticipated as 'herald of the kingdom' and of a renewed humanity, Jesus was 'himself that kingdom' and the bringer of a new life to all of mankind. Elijah is a prophet of the Lord; Jesus is the Lord, he is the Resurrection and the Life.
Again, we mustn't lose sight of the source of Jesus' prophetic ministry. That he is a prophet who works mighty wonders, there can be no doubt, and we agree entirely with the people, but we want to say more, and St. Luke tells us more. Jesus doesn't raise up the widow's son because that will prove to the people that he's a prophet; he doesn't do it for himself at all - he does it for her. It is significant that faith was not mentioned as a motive for Jesus’ action; indeed, from the story, it would appear that compassion had moved him to act, for we are told “when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her.…” This act, plus the nature of the miracle, underscored Jesus’ work as a signal of 'the messianic era.' Jewish tradition anticipated the age of the messiah as one in which all the suffering and the poor would be restored.
Moreover, St. Luke wants us to find more in this story than evidence of the compassion of Jesus. An examination of the context of this miracle with regard to the rest of the gospel would indicate that Luke had so placed it to prepare for the answer of Jesus to John the Baptizer’s disciples in 7:22. Immediately after describing this incident, he recalls the messengers who came from John the Baptist to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come?” To this question Jesus replied by reminding them of the signs spoken of by the prophets, signs that would announce the coming of the Messiah, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard. The blind recover their sight, cripples walk, lepers are cured, the deaf hear, 'dead men are raised to life' and the poor have the good news preached to them.” In answering the needs of the blind, the deaf, the poor, etc. Jesus had answered as well the questions about his identity, his power and his saving purpose.

In this miracle, Jesus demonstrates his invincible power over death, ‘the last enemy to be destroyed’ as Paul tells us. He is anticipating the ultimate triumph of his Paschal Mystery. Today’s Second Reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians – recalling his sharing in Christ’s triumph, when God ‘called him through his grace, and chose to reveal his Son to him’ – reminds us that we can all know the compassion of Jesus, as he shares with us his triumph over the reign of death.

To conclude, the two stories of today's Scripture Readings should help us to look at our own situation and see, first of all, how alive we really are, or how fully we are living our lives! Someone has said that most of us are dead or asleep. We do not live in the real world of the now. We are nostalgically looking at the past or we are dreaming about a future that never comes. In the meantime, the real world just passes us by.
At the same time we are surrounded by lots of people who are barely alive in the real sense. Maybe we can do something to lift them up and give them new life or improve the quality of their living. Jesus promised to give us life, life in great abundance. Also, God wants no one to suffer unnecessarily. What have we done when we are confronted by the concrete suffering of other people? What have we done when people share their pains and sufferings with us? Have we remained unmoved or have we involved ourselves in their suffering by lending a compassionate ear or extending a helping hand?
God wants life! This is clear in both cases. Life is God’s plan on earth. Death is where relationships break, and where hope dies, where love is lacking. Yes, there are many ‘dead’ around us. It is now our task to further the action of Christ in giving life to them. As Christians, we bear Christ, his life and his joy in our lives and in our activities. We often meet people in our life, many who have lost their hope; those who are in need of help. Can we give the divine joy for others through our presence? Is my life a living testimony of God, his love and mercy? Our God is a God of life! We are his children! Let us be the messengers of life! And this is the Good News of today.

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