TENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR


Commentaries on the Readings: 1 Kings 17:17-24; Galatians 1:11-19; Luke 7:11-17

THE THEME OF THE READINGS today focuses on God and his incarnate Son, Jesus, as the source of life. There is a contrast between Jesus and Elijah, one of the great prophets of the Hebrew Testament.

The simple story in today’s Gospel is only one of three in the Gospel where Jesus is described as bringing a dead person to life. The most dramatic is the story of Lazarus told in John’s gospel. There is the also the story of the synagogue leader’s daughter although it is not categorically certain that she had actually died. She might have been in a coma or catatonic state but those present believed she was dead.

A sad situation

In the thinking of the time, today’s scene is particularly sad. A woman, who has already lost her husband, has now lost her only son and the only means of her support. The lot of the widow, often a relatively young woman, was particularly difficult in a society where the married woman was no longer the responsibility of her own family and who, after the death of husband and children, was of no further interest to her in-laws either. She simply had nowhere to look for support. She was largely left to her own devices in a society where social welfare was unknown. It is no wonder that widows were often quoted, with orphans – children without a family, as the most to be pitied in society.

Jesus himself is deeply moved at her plight. Significantly at this point and for the first time in his Gospel, Luke refers to Jesus as “Lord”, a title reserved for God alone. He approaches the litter carrying the dead man, tells the bearers to stop and then simply orders the young man to rise up. As in other similar stories, the word “rise up” is the same as that used to describe the resurrection of Jesus. “I have come that they may have life.”

Awe and admiration

The reaction of the people around is one of awe and admiration. “A great prophet has risen among us and God has visited his people.” They had no doubts about the origin of what they had seen taking place; it was the work of God. Not surprisingly, the story spread like wildfire all through Judea and beyond.

In calling Jesus a prophet, the people were perhaps thinking of another great prophet, Elijah, who also gave a son back to a grieving widow. This is the widow of Zarephath, mentioned by Jesus in his confrontation with the people of his hometown (cf. Gospel of 4th Sunday C). God had told Elijah to go and live in her house. She was a desperately poor woman who, when Elijah first met her, was gathering sticks to light a fire so that she could cook a final last meal for her son and herself before they both died of poverty and starvation. Elijah solved that problem by providing an unending supply of basic food for all three of them.

But now, the son has fallen ill and “his illness was so severe that in the end he had no breath left in him”. The mother, now – like the widow in today’s Gospel – about to lose her only hope in life, is distraught and takes it out on Elijah. She sees him as a man of God bringing punishment on her former sins. But Elijah takes the son, carries him upstairs and stretches himself three times on the boy’s body while praying to God to restore life to the boy. In acting like this, it would seem that this was a symbolic transfer of some of his own bodily warmth to the boy but it is clear that life would come through prayer. The prayer was answered and the boy is given back to a grateful mother. She now sees Elijah truly as a man of God bringing life to his people.

Differences

There are contrasts between this story and that in the Gospel. Elijah is clearly a servant of God. He goes through an elaborate ritual and prays to his God to bring life back to the boy. Jesus, on the other hand, prays to no one. He speaks words of comfort to the woman and then simply orders the boy to get up. Elijah is a prophet of the Lord; Jesus is Lord, he is the Resurrection and the Life.

This story should help us to look at our own situation and see, first of all, how alive we really are. Fr Tony de Mello used to like saying 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. Another popular Catholic writer, John Powell, sometimes reminds us that most of us only use a tiny fraction of our real potential. We are only partly alive. So he wrote a book called “Fully Human, Fully Alive”. We have probably all heard the saying of St Irenaeus often quoted: “The glory of God is a person fully alive.”

Perhaps today we should reflect a little on just how fully we are living our lives. It is not enough just to be physically alive. There are other levels: the emotional, social, intellectual, moral and spiritual levels. 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. It is there for the asking.

 

 

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