June 5, 2016 Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
They tell me that reading obituaries is an Irish custom. While I am not certain that is true, I find myself scanning them for familiar names and stopping at tales about those who died at a young age. I do something similar whenever a funeral entourage passes. I offer a thought and a prayer for the deceased and for those who mourn him/her. And then I move on.
Today’s Gospel story is a reminder of all those funeral processions and obituaries. Jesus was moving from town to town and preaching. And as he came close to the village of Nain he heard a funeral procession approach. A woman led the way and her story is told in one sentence: the young man was “the only son of his mother and she was a widow.” Jesus’ initial reaction was like ours. He felt sorry for the widow. Like we would, he told her to stop crying and then he did something we could not. He brought the young man back to life and gave him to his mother.
It is particularly interesting that the woman does not announce her faith to Jesus. She does not even ask Jesus to give her son back to her. She simply shows her pain and her grief. Jesus action is gratuitous. He responds from his compassion.
Jesus’ compassion was rooted in his understanding of what it was to be a widow in the society of that time. Not only would the widow face the loneliness of being without a family, she had lost male protection and economic stability. Her culture forced women to rely on men. The widow’s grief was profound and her future was bleak. Observing the scene, Jesus was so moved that he touched the corpse, told him to rise and gave him to his mother.
The story is reminiscent of the First Reading. Through Elijah, God returned a son to his mother. As a result, Elijah was seen as “a man of God. In the Gospel, the act was proof that Jesus was a prophet and it was good reason to spread the word throughout the countryside. Scripture scholars tell us that it seems as if Jesus went to Nain precisely to comfort the widow because he had no other reason for the trip. It does not matter. We are believers and we know the power of Jesus. This story tells us more. This miracle was more about Jesus’ compassion than about his power.
Again and again, we hear in both the Old Testament and the New Testament that God was moved with pity or compassion. In fact, all of salvation history is the story of God’s compassion. Today we are reminded once more that ours is a God of love. In times of distress, we are sometimes tempted to believe that God does not care, that he is not listening. This is a story we need to hear.