3 C Pentecost
5 June 2016
Preachers like me struggle when they try to explain a miracle. By a miracle I mean something that could not happen in ordinary human circumstances. For instance, a dead man brought back to life as though it were an everyday occurrence. Luke, however, takes these things for granted and with good reason. I don’t think we need to worry whether or not the events portrayed in the Gospel could happen in any scientific way. People may choose to refuse to believe in the that which defies the laws of science. I think, for them, they are the ones who have lost something precious.
Jesus has just healed the centurion’s slave and now he brings back to life the son of a woman who he does not even know. In fact, it appears that she did not see or recognize Jesus. Nowhere does she utter a single word. There is one word for that: compassion. If we carry away nothing else from the story today, we need to carry away the word compassion. This woman was a stranger to Jesus and yet he felt compassion. He is showing what the reign of God is all about. No, it is not about people not continuing to become ill and die, or have a society where all are treated equally. If that were the case, there might not have been a need for Jesus to even have existed; we would have already listened to what God has been telling us.
As it stands we are seeing words turned into deeds. A widow with one child was most likely in a precarious place in that society; if there were no other brothers of her late husband to marry her, she would have been close to poverty and with the death of her son she likely would find what she had become the possession of the late husband’s family. Not at all a good place to find oneself. In essence Jesus has given her life.
How should we, so many thousand years later, react to this story and this audacious pronouncement as to how we are to live our lives? Maybe we should see it as a call to action. After all is it not Luke who gave us the Magnificat? God has a preference for the poor and marginalized and, as the story last week of the Centurion epitomized, those who have faith.
I would hope we would start to look for our own widows of Nain; those who are outside of prosperity. We can look for those who have died from violence. If we were reading this as a modern parable I would wonder if the young man were a victim of gun violence, and perhaps a person of color. We can look for those who are being harmed by environmental degradation or pollutants. We can try to understand the refugee crisis that brings so many to our shores and to other countries.
This story could be held as the “gold standard” to which we are to be held in our relationship to one another. We are witnessing an extreme act of compassion, which was seen as weakness in Roman society. I also fear that compassion today in our society is being twisted into being un-American. Violence seems to be the order of the day with an utter failure by so many, particularly those who claim or would like to claim power, to condemn acts of hatred and to seek peacemaking.
On a recent episode of Who Do You Think You Are? one guest found that her Mennonite ancestor would not take up a gun to defend his own home against native American assailants. How hard it is for us to practice that radical kind of nonviolence. As I look at myself in the mirror I wonder how I would have reacted in the same circumstances.
If nothing else, the story today speaks to the incredible harvest that comes when true compassion is shown.
Yet we know that our world can be turned upside down, that often might triumphs over right and that the good die young. We ask where God is when things go wrong. We are hard wired to expect things to come out all right” and when the don’t we ask why, or where is God. Yet if we deny God’s existence or benevolence we can be left with a world little meaning or purpose.
In the end I read this story literally; I believe Jesus brought a dead man back to life. I believe that just because bad things happen and Jesus or God does not come in on a white horse and repair the damage it does not mean that God does not exist. Life happens; death happens. What I see is that every time we perform an act of compassion, not driven out of any notion of personal reward, but out of the shear feeling that I am to reach out to another human being with love, we have in some small way duplicated that miracle. We can help to bring back to life those who have fallen into despair or lost (or perhaps never had) a faith in God.
I am not walking down the road with a crowd at my heels; I am actually happiest when I don’t have a crowd!! However, I need to be alert in so many ways so as not to miss and an opportunity for being compassionate. I know that I am blinded altogether too many times.
I will leave you with one thought for the week:
The Dalai Lama’s statement says it all: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” How then may I practice compassion?