Jun 7, 2013

Towards Sunday: A model for compassion

1 Kg 17: 17 – 24
Gal 1: 11-19
Lk 7: 11-17

It may be a somewhat unscientific study to say the older you get the more often you read the obituaries. While that in itself may seem a bit macabre, what might be even more informational is to note the survivors of the listed deceased.  We read, “wife of” or “husband of,” or “survived by,” then a list of family and friends that are left behind.  If you’re in the habit of at least an occasional look at the obituaries, you may take note of those who are grieving the loss of their loved ones. It is ancient tradition to pray for the dead but what about family and friends?  It might be good to also pray for those “survivors” of the deceased that their sadness may be healed.

So it seems with the Gospel this Sunday.  Jesus encounters an unexpected funeral procession as he enters the town of Nain. It may be interesting to note that Jesus was accompanied by an eager crowd as he entered the city.  Likely they were engaged in lively conversation or debate about some teaching or parable that Jesus had shared with them; a crowd very much alive.

As that crowd enters the city with Jesus, they face another throng.  This group is likely filled with mourners who are wailing the death of the only son of a widow.  As the mood suddenly changes from lively to somber, Jesus now turns his attention away from his crowd to that of the mourners and in particular to the widow herself.  He is filled “with pity for her” as Luke tells us. This scene may have indeed brought to the mind of Jesus his own mother and the fact that he too was her only son and that she too would feel the grief of this widow, yet even more due to the nature of Jesus’ death.

His compassion moves him to action.  He raises this young man back to life and returns him to his mother.  Her security is regained, her grief is healed, and her hopeless state is given a restored vision. While there is much of ancient Jewish culture here about the relationship between a Jewish mother and her first born son, the greater lesson may center on Jesus himself as the hope of all people. 

Our first reading this Sunday from Kings has a similar yet significantly different story. The prophet Elijah faces an irate widow who fears that the prophet may “kill my son” since he arrives at the moment her son stops breathing.  The timing for poor Elijah could not have been more awkward but as a prophet, he pleads with God that the “life breath return to the body of this child . . .” (1 Kg: 17).  Elijah does not heal the boy, he pleads with God to do so.

The parallel with the Gospel is obvious except that it is Jesus himself, considered by many to be a great prophet, who heals the widow’s son. Of his own power and authority Jesus brings new life and hope.  No intermediary prophet but Jesus himself.

This miracle story, as they all are, calls us to place our faith and hope in the person of Christ Jesus.  To see him as our ultimate hope in time of sadness and difficulty. But it also gives us a model of how we should live.  Every day the unmistakable “me first” culture of our time is evident.  We see and hear it in advertising, we encounter such attitudes in the out of control law suits filed for frivolous things and we may even recognize it in ourselves as we find great impatience waiting in line or driving in traffic for example. 

Here, in Jesus, we see the model of compassion and mercy.  While we may not be capable of raising the dead or healing a blind man, we are able to perform miracles of mercy and empathy with others. 

As we journey towards this Sunday, it might be good for all of us to examine our own behavior.  Do I write others off who may be in need of a kind word or some simple assistance because I’m too busy or just don’t feel I have the time to stop what I’m doing?

Do I have a prayer life that centers on myself, praying for my own needs and wants only or does my prayer include the needs of others?  Have I ever prayed for a more compassionate heart? 

More to come . . .