Francis A. Doyle, O.S.A.
Blessed Stephen Bellesini Friary
1 Kgs 17: 17-24
Ps 30: 2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13
Gal 1: 11-14a, 15ac, 16a, 17, 19
Lk 7: 11-17
As a young novice I was introduced to the practice in religious formation that assigned each novice a particular responsibility within the community. We called these responsibilities “house jobs”. One job was known as “the caller”. Each morning the caller would awake and at the appointed time would begin knocking on the door of each novice to let him know that it was time to arise for Morning Prayer. With each knock on a door he would say in Latin, “Benedicamus Domino” (Let us bless the Lord), to which the novice would respond “Deo Gratias” (Thanks be to God). It was time to arise and welcome the new day with the joyful praise of God. Our scripture readings today invite us to “Arise”.
In today’s Gospel we hear of a woman who is accompanying her only son to his final resting place. This is not the first time she has walked this path. She remembers following the body of her dead husband to his burial. She is a widow now without the support of her son which makes her grieving all the more unbearable. Jesus meets them and with compassion he says to the dead man, “Young man, I tell you, arise”. Jesus had restored other people to life in the course of his ministry. He raised the deceased daughter of Jairus to life again. He brought his dear friend Lazarus back from the dead in order that God’s name would be glorified. But in this instance there was an additional significant factor, namely, that this woman was a widow.
To be a widow at the time of Christ was to have no power, no social standing. Women could only be represented legally by men. Women could only be defended socially by men. She was defenseless and vulnerable now. This woman’s rights and dignity died with her son. Each step she took was heavy with grief, heavy with fear, as each step she took was a step into an unknown future. A widow, however, had a special place in God’s heart as we read in Psalm 146: “God protected the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow” and sought justice for the orphan and the widow. Likewise, God desired that all people be known for showing mercy to those least among them, particularly defenseless widows and orphans. We see that compassion in Jesus today when he said to the young man, “Arise”, and the young man sat up. With that this widow was given back her life as well.
Certainly it would seem that the most dramatic aspect of this event was about a dead man coming to life, shocking his mother and all those in the procession who were filled with understandable fear. This was indeed another example of the promise of resurrection of which Jesus had spoken. The glory of God was revealed in bringing a young man back to life. It is a statement of Jesus’ triumph over death. But there was another “glory” revealed here. Jesus showed great mercy to this woman and told her not to weep. He gave her son back to her. By doing so he brought her back to life as well. He healed a woman who was not only broken-hearted with grief but broken by a society that would not treat her with dignity and respect. Those present would have known that they were in the presence of a prophet because they were familiar with their scriptures that taught them that God cared for widows and insisted that they be given special care. They knew that God had previously sent prophets like Elijah to heal as we heard in our first reading today from the Book of Kings. Caring for those that society wants to ignore is what God is all about.
We live in a world that is torn apart by divisions of religion, ethnicity, nationality, tribal affiliations, gender, wealth and poverty to name only a few. Our Creator has not only given us biological life but a share in Divine Life where there are no divisions. Where divisions do exist, we have been given the power to heal those breaches in the fabric of human kind. The people of Nain rejoiced and said, “A great prophet has arisen in our midst,” and “God has visited his people”. Hopefully, as the people returned home they had some sense of the possibility of living together now without any traditional boundaries.
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy we celebrate God’s inestimable compassion for us and all people, especially the marginalized. Hopefully we will hear the voice of Jesus telling us to “Arise” and be awakened to the knock on the door of our hearts and be instruments of God’s healing power, healers of the divisions that plague our world today. We believe that God’s compassion has no boundaries as Jesus taught us in both word and action. Jesus came among us to teach us of the reign of God, a reign of justice, dignity, and harmony among all people. May our every action in this regard proclaim God’s reign as we refuse to exclude people from the fullness of God’s life and love. In this way all will know that “God has visited his people” and that God desires us to always live together as one family in harmony and peace. May we hear and awaken to the voice of that “Divine Caller” and respond with “Deo gratias”.