It may be a bit simplistic but one could divide the world into two different sets of people, namely, life enhancers and life diminishing people. First of all, the life enhancers. Some people have the knack of bringing joy and ease to their surroundings, they are more than willing to help, to listen, and share knowledge, burdens, and sufferings etc. It is good and refreshing to be around such people. Life diminishing people on the other hand always have problems, always see problems and are always too busy with their own things to worry about others. Such people leave us feeling exhausted and down.
It has often been said that we have a penchant for creating God in our own image and likeness. If this be the case, then we may well ask what kind of God do we end up with; a life enhancer or diminisher. A few difficult experiences may well lead us to think of God as cold and merciless. It is all too easy and common to imagine God as the ultimate life-diminisher: the killjoy, the moral keeper of tabs, the wrathful raw power. God becomes a projection of the worst qualities of human power and must be appeased and served in the most servile manner. All powerful, but also small minded, keeping track of little regulations and just waiting to pounce, and small-minded also in that if the rules are kept and the various ‘security tests’ passed, then we can escape!
But this is not the God of Jesus Christ and certainly not the God portrayed in today’s readings. Two widows are featured in the sacred texts today. In most cultures today a widow is allowed possession of her husband’s estate and inheritance. Even though she may continue to mourn her life partner, she is not legally defenceless, nor has she lost any degree of her social status. Not so in biblical times. The widows in today’s readings would have no inheritance and no rights. Their only hope of survival depended on their sons who could look after them. Therefore, the sad plight of these two widows who have lost their only sons is indeed very tragic.
This, however, is not the way God sees things. For God, the widow and the orphan are among his chosen ones. There are many texts that show God’s preferential option for widows and orphans. Here is just one: “The father of orphans and the defender of widows is God in his holy dwelling” (Ps 68:5). For this reason, Elijah, inspired by God, went to the home of the widow of Zarephath in Sidon. She and her son were not Israelites; nevertheless, they were included in God’s universal plan of mercy and salvation. By giving back life to the son Elijah he also gave life back to the widow. And this is exactly how God would have it because God’s deeds are life-enhancing.
In the gospel we have an even greater miracle where Jesus instantly raises a young man to life. The problem with miracles like this is that they are eye catching. They steal the show and we forget to look at the great compassion of Jesus behind the miracle. So let’s look again at the gentleness, sympathy, compassion and mercy of Jesus which is truly a revelation of how God deals with us. Jesus comes to Nain when a really sad event is going on in the village. A widowed mother, accompanied by her neighbours, goes to bury her only son. According to the story, ‘the Lord saw her, felt sorry for her and said to her, ‘Don’t cry’’. This is not someone Jesus knows yet he is drawn to her and looks looks at her steadily. He captures her pain and aloneness, and he’s moved to his very core. The dejection of that woman reaches deep inside him. His reaction is immediate: ‘Don’t cry’. Jesus can’t stand to see someone crying. He needs to intervene. It’s difficult to find a better way of describing the Prophet of God’s compassion.
Jesus doesn’t stop to think twice. He draws near to the hearse, stops the funeral and says to the dead boy: ‘Young man, I tell you: get up’. When the youth gets up and starts to talk, Jesus ‘gave him to his mother’ in order to stop her from crying. Once again they are together. The mother will no longer be alone. Once again two lives are saved, that of the son and the mother. God’s compassion is life-enhancing.
There is another edge to this miracle. In giving back her son to the woman Jesus is making a critique of our human reality. There will always be widows, but that doesn’t mean that they should be the most impoverished of people with no one to support them. By being moved by the plight of this widow and coming to her aid, Jesus is pointing a finger at unjust structures that would leave this woman totally helpless and abandoned. And today unjust structures are in the ascendency leaving untold numbers poor, hungry, unlettered and totally vulnerable. And that is not to mention the terrible plight of so many migrants today. Such situations do not sit right with a God of compassion. On the contrary it must pain the very heart of God that anyone, least of all widows, orphans and migrants, should end her days in such hopeless and depressing ways.
Human greed and corruption diminishes us and this is especially true of the poor. When we are battered by human meanness we find it hard to believe that there is ultimately goodness in the universe and that an encounter with God is an encounter with life-enhancement. Thankfully today we are asked to think again. The readings call us to look upon Jesus and restore our faith in the loving goodness of God. The God who in love created us and in love sends us the Christ, is now desiring us to enjoy his love.
Sunday, 5th June 2016