Sunday, June 5, 2016

10th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Kings 17:17-24; Galatians 1:11-14a, 15ac, 16a, 17, 19; Luke 7: 11-17

What hopes did the widow of Nain have on that day,
as she accompanied the funeral procession
on the journey to her son’s place of burial?
They certainly did not include what actually happened.
She may have had, as many Jews in her day did,
a hope that someday God’s kingdom would come
and the dead would be raised to new life,
but she surely was not hoping
that her son would be returned to her that very day;
she surely was not hoping
that death would be pushed back into its lair,
even for a moment;
she surely was not hoping
that the Rabbi from Nazareth would become,
as the fourth-century poet Ephrem the Syrian put it,
“like a sponge for her tears
and as life for the death of her son.”
But Jesus says to her, “Do not weep.”
He says to the lifeless corpse,
“Young man, I tell you, arise!”
And the crowd exclaims in response,
“God has visited his people.”

What expectations did Paul have on that day,
as he traveled the road to Damascus
on the journey to continue his campaign of persecution
against the followers of Jesus,
a campaign, he tells us in our second reading,
that was “beyond measure” and sought nothing less
than the destruction of this heretical faction within Judaism?
He may have expected that God would reward him for his zeal,
that the good work he was undertaking
of purifying God’s people of the contagion of this blasphemy
would make him righteous in the eyes of God.
But he surely did not expect
that Jesus would be revealed to him as God’s Son;
he surely did not expect
that God had called him from his mother’s womb
to bring the Good News of Jesus to the Gentile outsiders;
he surely did not expect that Christ, by his grace,
would raise his soul from the death of sin
just as surely as he had raised the body
of the son of the widow of Nain.
But God, through Jesus, in the power of the Spirit,
steps into Paul’s life
in a personal and immediate way
and things would never be the same again.
Paul, his eyes opened by grace, suddenly sees,
no less than the crowd who had witnessed
the raising of the widow’s son,
that in Jesus Christ,
“God has visited his people.”

What hopes and expectations do we have on this day,
as we find ourselves in the midst our life’s journey?
We may expect that Mass will once again
run a bit longer than we wish it would,
though we hope it will at least be worth it.
We may hope that the Oriels
will continue to have a triumphant season,
though we expect that they
will fall apart as usual
after the All Star break.
We may even hope that today
we will catch a glimpse of something
that will deepen our lives of faith, hope, and love,
though we probably expect
that our everyday lives will go on as usual.
But what if we take seriously the possibility
that our Scriptures this morning
hold before our eyes?
What if we take seriously the message
that in Jesus God has visited his people
with the power to push back death’s kingdom,
that in Jesus God has stepped into our lives
in a powerful and personal way,
calling out to each of us,
and waiting for us
to hear and to answer?

In the story of widow of Nain and in the life of Paul
we see that God not only goes beyond
what we might hope or expect,
but even upsets and overturns
the so-called normal pattern of how life goes,
that way of getting by
in which we pretend we have made our peace
with the forces of sin and death.
We may think that death wins in the end,
and even now rules our lives,
holding us back in our aversion to risk
and our fear of loss.
We may think that we are left on our own
to deal with our regrets,
to put behind us the pain
that we have suffered or inflicted.
We may think that God is a lofty concept,
something distant and uninterested,
to which we can relate only as an abstract ideal.
But the good news this day—
the good news every day—
is that God has visited his people
in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
The good news this day—
the good news every day—
is that God continues to visit his people
through the Holy Spirit,
who prays within us with signs to deep for words,
who makes us call out to the God
who is no distant and bloodless abstraction
but the endlessly fascinating mystery
who is at work in our world and in our lives.
The good news this day—
the good news every day—
is that this mysterious God draws near to us,
enters into our world and our lives
with a disturbing intimacy,
and calls us to leave behind our ordinary
(and, frankly, pretty boring)
hopes and expectations of what life can offer
and holds out to us the adventure of eternity.

Each and every one of you, this day,
is the widow of Nain mourning beside her son,
is Paul embarking on his mission of destruction.
Each and every one of you has before you
Jesus’ offer of life and forgiveness and transformation.
Each and every one of you
has been called by God from your mother’s womb
to take up that offer,
to become agents of life and forgiveness
as members of Christ’s body.
For here, in this place,
now, in this moment
God has visited his people.