10th Sunday of the Year 1 Kings 17:17–24; Galatians 1:11–19; Luke 7:11–17
The miracle The raising of the widow’s son to physical life previews Jesus’ raising of us to eternal life.
Amovie director could hardly create a more dramatic Scene than the one in today’s gospel. Luke sets the stage for it by saying:
“Jesus went to a town named Nain, accompanied by his disciples and a large crowd. Just as he arrived at the gate of the town, a funeral procession was coming out. The dead man was the only son of a woman who was a widow. . . .”
To appreciate this scene, let’s imagine we are in a helicopter with a television camera crew filming it.
As we look down from the helicopter, we see a small town with a wall around it. Inside the walled town we see a crowd of people, dressed in black, walking toward the main gate.
Outside the town we see another crowd, laughing and talking, approaching the same gate.
A few minutes later both crowds meet at the gate and come to a halt.
Then something dramatic happens. Out of the latter group steps Jesus. He walks over to the litter on which the dead boy lies. Taking the boy’s hand, Jesus says, “Young man! Get up, I tell you!” A deathly silence falls across both crowds. Then a loud gasp goes up from everyone as the boy begins to move. He is alive!
Luke ends his account with these words: “They all were filled with fear and praised God.”
Now let’s imagine this scene fades and another takes its place.
It’s nightfall, and we’re inside the town of Nain. The public square is jammed with people celebrating and talking about the miracle. One old man says to another:
“How do you explain what happened today? Why did Jesus work that miracle? Was it only because he pitied the widow?’’
The other man pauses a moment and says:
“No, I think there’s more to it than that. I think we’ve got to see this miracle alongside the other miracles of Jesus: restoring health to the sick, sight to the blind, and hearing to the deaf.
“Remember what the prophet Isaiah said? He said that certain signs would announce the arrival of God’s kingdom and the Messiah:
“The blind will be able to see, and the deaf will hear. The lame will leap and dance, and those who cannot speak will shout for joy.” Isaiah 35:5–6
“I think Jesus’ miracle today is another sign that God’s kingdom has arrived and that Jesus is the promised Messiah.’’
This brings us back to us in this church today. How should we interpret that miracle 20 centuries later? What is Jesus saying to us through it?
Let’s answer that question with a story.
Maryknoll missionary Fr. Paul Belliveau has one of the most unusual parishes in the world. He is pastor of 11,000 Salvadoran refugees in a camp in Honduras.
Most of his congregation are women, children, and old people. They are virtual prisoners because the camp is surrounded by soldiers who keep them locked in so they can’t flee to freedom to places like the United States.
Here are two excerpts from a diary that Fr. Belliveau keeps. The first is dated Sunday. It reads:
“I noticed many of the refugees kept looking outside the chapel through the open boards at a group of 18 Honduran soldiers who were passing through the camp. I sensed fear among the people. How many times have they seen armed soldiers come into their villages in El Salvador to kill and destroy? I had to calm the people before we continued with Mass.’’
The second excerpt, dated Tuesday, reads:
“While I was at Campamento 5, I saw many women in the chapel praying. I entered and sat down. About 80 women were saying the Stations of the Cross. Every station identified the suffering of Jesus with the refugees. The women told me how they called their group ‘Mothers who have lost children due to the violence in El Salvador.’ ’’*
As Fr. Belliveau talked with the women, he saw in their faces the same pain that Jesus saw in the face of the widow of Nain.
With all his heart, Fr. Belliveau wanted to restore to life their dead sons, as Jesus restored to life the widow’s son. But Fr. Belliveau was not Jesus.
Then the priest realized something. He realized that Jesus was present at that moment in the chapel as truly as he was present in the village of Nain 2,000 years ago.
He realized something more. He realized that Jesus was working a miracle in that chapel that was even greater than the one he worked at Nain.
Through the prayers of these widows, Jesus was giving their sons not just a physical life * From “Refugee Camp Diary’’ by Paul Belliveau, M.M., Maryknoll magazine (April 1986). Reprinted by permission.
that would last another 30 or 40 years. He was giving them an eternal life that would last forever.
“For what my Father wants is that all who see the Son and believe in him should have eternal life. And I shall raise them to life on the last day.” John 6:40
And suddenly Fr. Belliveau realized that the miracle Jesus works for those who believe in him exceeds by far the miracle he worked for the widow’s son.
This is the message in today’s gospel. This is the message Jesus wants to give us today.
He wants us to see the miracle at Nain not just as a sign of his compassion which it is nor just as a sign that he is the Messiah which he is but also as a sign of what he will do for us, if we believe in him.
He will raise us up not just to a new physical life but to an eternal life that will last forever.
This is the good news of today’s gospel. This is the good news Jesus gives us today. This is the good news that we have gathered to celebrate today.
Let’s close with a prayer:
Hands of Jesus, you touched the eyes of the blind and gave them physical sight. Touch our eyes and give us eternal sight.
Hands of Jesus, you touched the ears of the deaf and gave them physical hearing. Touch our ears and give us eternal hearing.
Hands of Jesus, you touched the body of a boy and gave him physical life. Touch us and give us eternal life.
Series II 10th Sunday of the Year 1 Kings 17:17–24; Galatians 1:11–19; Luke 7:11–17
Alfredo Jesus is still healing people and raising them to life in our time.
Some years ago a beautiful story was shown on national TV. It took place in Mexico and concerned a 12-year-old boy named Alfredo.
The boy had lost his entire family in a terrible fire. In that same terrible fire, his face was horribly disfigured by the flames.
Incredibly, no one took Alfredo in. He ended up living on the streets, on his own. It was a terrible existence for a 12-year-old boy.
One day Alfredo happened upon a home for boys. It was like an orphanage. But it was more than that. The priest in charge had managed to communicate to the boys a true sense of family and a true sense of caring for one another.
Alfredo watched the boys at play. With all his heart he wished that he could be one of them.
Then, with all the courage he could muster, he went to see the priest in charge. When the priest saw Alfredo’s face, he was shocked. When he heard his story, he was moved with pity.
But the priest could not make the decision to accept Alfredo. The home was run in such a way that the boys themselves voted on all newcomers. Alfredo waited while the priest called the boys together and submitted to them Alfredo’s request. He told them that if they accepted Alfredo, they would have to treat him as a brother.
The worst thing they could do would be to accept him and then ignore him or avoid him.
With that, the priest brought Alfredo in to meet the other boys.
The television director did a spectacular job of capturing the drama of the moment. He had the camera pan the faces of the boys and register their looks of shock as they saw Alfredo’s disfigured face.
Then, after what seemed to be an eternity, a boy stepped from the ranks of the other boys, went over to Alfredo, took his hand, and said, “You are my brother!’’
With that, one by one, the other boys did the same.
The film then jumped ahead to the evening. A great celebration was in progress at the orphanage: food, music, and games. The boys were celebrating the addition of a new brother to their family.
The camera then cut to Alfredo. His face was washed. His hair was combed. He was wearing clean clothes.
But then the camera showed the important thing about Alfredo. On his horribly disfigured face, for the first time in years, was an incredibly beautiful smile. The story of Alfredo bears a striking resemblance to the two stories in today’s Scripture readings. In both stories, a dead boy is miraculously restored to life. Alfredo was very much like those two boys. He too was dead in a very true sense.
He was dead emotionally. He was dead spiritually. He was dead socially. He might as well have been dead physically. He was, for all practical purposes, a walking dead man.
Then came the miracle. It was the decision of the boys at the orphanage to accept Alfredo and to embrace him as a brother.
Their decision raised him to new life. In a literal sense Alfredo rose from the dead emotionally. He rose from the dead spiritually. He rose from the dead socially.
For all practical purposes, he was restored to life again, just as truly as were the two boys in today’s Scripture readings.
This brings us to an important point. The miracles of Jesus are not events that took place in gospel times and then ceased. They are events that are still taking place today.
Jesus continues to raise people to new life today, just as truly as he raised the widow’s son 2,000 years ago. The only difference is how Jesus does this.
He does it not by reaching out his own flesh-and-blood hand to people and saying to them what he said to the widow’s son: “Get up, I tell you!” Rather, he does it by inspiring us to reach out our hand to people and say to them, “Get up, I tell you!”
In other words, Jesus shares with us his power to raise people to new life in our day.
By our warmth and compassion, he gives us the power to raise people to new life emotionally.
By our prayer and sacrifice, he gives us the power to raise people to new life spiritually. By our love and acceptance, he gives us the power to raise people to new life socially.
This is what we celebrate in today’s liturgy.
We celebrate the fact that Jesus is still working miracles in our midst today. He is still raising people from death to life, just as truly as he raised the widow’s son 2,000 years ago.
But Jesus does all this not by his own hands and his own voice, but by our hands and our voice if we but let him.
We are his voice; we are his hands; we are his heart. This is what we celebrate in today’s liturgy. This is what Jesus is saying to us in today’s readings. Let us close with a prayer:
Lord Jesus, with your own hands, you touched people in your day and restored sight to their eyes. Give us the courage to reach out our hands to others to allow you to continue to restore sight to people in our day.
Lord Jesus, with your own hands, you touched the people in your day and restored hearing to their ears. Give us the courage to reach out our hands to others to allow you to continue to restore hearing to people in our day.
Lord Jesus, with your own hands, you touched the people in your day and restored life to their bodies. Give us the courage to reach out our hands to others to allow you to continue to restore life to people in our day.
Series III 10th Sunday of the Year 1 Kings 17:17–24, Galatians 1:11–19, Luke 7:11–17
Compassion Teach me to feel another’s woe. Alexander Pope
When [Jesus] saw [the widow],his heart was filled with pity. . . . Luke 7:13
Walter Payton was one of the greatest running backs who ever played for the Chicago Bears.
Known throughout Chicago as “Sweetness,” he was also one of the finest persons ever to play for the Bears.
Personally and professionally, he deserved the name “Sweetness.”
Shortly after his early death, a former Chicago woman, now living in Texas, sent a letter to the Dallas Morning News.
She told how she attended an auto show in Chicago, where Walter Payton was standing on a platform, signing autographs.
A young boy, about 12 years of age, gave an attendant a football that the boy had carried from home to be signed by Payton. Walter signed it, threw it to the boy, and continued signing autographs. He didn’t see a very tall teenager intercept the pass to the young boy and flee the crowd with the stolen ball. The young boy buried his head in his hands and cried.
Awoman, standing nearby, pushed through the crowd and got the attendant’s attention. He, in turn, relayed the message to Payton, who came over to the edge of the platform and called the young boy over.
He asked for the boy’s name and address and informed him that an autographed pro football would be in the mail.
The woman who wrote the letter to the newspaper said:
I never witnessed tears turning into such a broad smile after he shook hands with Walter.
She ended, saying:
Walter was not only Mr. Sweetness on the field, but, I believe, in all aspects of his short life. Lorraine Rukavina, Carrollton, Texas
In a way, I think that story gives us a better insight into the kind of person Walter Payton was than do all his athletic achievements.
It shows him to be a person of feeling and compassion. It shows him to be a person who can put himself into the shoes of another person. It shows him to be the kind person who can not only feel another’s pain but is willing to go out of his way to do something about it. In short, it shows him to be the kind of person Jesus was and taught his followers to be: a person of compassion.
The restoration to life of the only son of the poor widow in today’s Gospel is just one of many examples of compassion that marked Jesus’ life.
It is one of the motivating acts that led him to reach out and heal people. Concerning this point, Donald Senior, a Scripture scholar, writes:
The Gospels leave little doubt that compassion was the motivation behind Jesus’ healing ministry.
Compassion urges Jesus to touch the leper and cure him. Mark 1:15–21 Compassion for the crowd’s hunger moves him to feed them. Matthew 14:14 Compassion . . . causes him to enlist the disciples in the same healing ministry. Matthew 9:36
And compassion for the widow of Nain leads Jesus to restore her son to life. Luke 7:13 Donald Senior, Jesus That brings us to an important point about the healing miracles of Jesus.
The healing of the blind man, the curing of the deaf man, the raising to life of the widow’s son these were not only signs of Jesus’ compassion but also signs of something more. The blind man’s sight would dim again with age. The deaf man’s hearing would fade again. And the widow’s son would eventually die of sickness or old age.
What, then, was their more permanent or deeper significance?
They were signs revealing to the people who Jesus was and what he had come to do.
They were signs, foretold by the prophets, that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. They are signs that Jesus was inaugurating the long-awaited Kingdom of God.
The healing of the blind man was a sign for the people of Jesus’ day to open their eyes to the bright light of a new day.
The healing of the deaf man was a sign for them to open their ears to what Jesus had to say.
The raising of the widow’s son was a sign for them to be reborn and to begin living new lives in God’s Kingdom.
The miracles of Jesus were the “alarm clocks” of history, jarring people from beds of apathy. They were signs of the arrival of the Kingdom of God.
And what was this Kingdom? It was a new world order in which love would replace hate, concern would replace unconcern, light would replace darkness, and life would replace death. The homeless man, the thirsty woman, the naked child, the imprisoned brother these would now find a friend and helper, where before they only found the shadow of a stranger, passing them like a ship in the night.
This new world order goes on. We Christians are called to continue the miracles of Jesus and be signs of hope, working together to transform our world with our love and concern.
In our own individual way, we are to be people of compassion, doing the kind of everyday things Walter Payton did in our opening story.
In the words attributed to Saint Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body now but ours, no hands but ours, no feet but ours. Ours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion must look on the world. Ours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Ours are the hands with which he is to continue to work miracles in our world. Slightly adapted