The great feast of Pentecost was three weeks ago. For three weeks we have been journeying through “ordinary time,” discovering all the while how immeasurably rich is the life that God has poured into our hearts. We have pondered the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity and worshipped Jesus in the Eucharist (Corpus Christi), and in the past two days we have honored the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Today’s readings invite us to reflect further on the gift of new life we receive in Christ.
Everything God has revealed to us about himself in these past few months confirms that he is the Lord of life. All life comes from him and belongs to him. He created us to share in the fullness of his divine life forever. Jesus told us this very clearly: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10). The Lord is truly “pro-life.”
The first reading and the gospel both recount incidents in which the only son of a widow is raised from death to life and given back to his mother. Elijah performs this miracle in secret, pleading with the Lord for the life of the boy. Jesus performs the same miracle, but in a very public way, standing between two large crowds of people. He does it with minimal effort. He makes no loud cries or dramatic gestures; he simply tells the dead young man to get up – and immediately he sits up and begins to speak!
It is clear that Elijah is an instrument of God, a prophet of God. The widow who witnesses the miracle declares, “The word of the Lord comes truly from your mouth.” Jesus, however, is more than a prophet of God, he is God. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The word of Jesus is a life-giving divine word. Together with the people in the crowd, we witness the power of God at work and are filled with awe. We praise and thank the Lord. However, there is more to these readings than simply historical examples of the Lord’s power. The word of God is not addressed only to widows mourning the death of their sons. It applies to each of us, personally and deeply. When God speaks, we receive life. This is why we ponder the word of God each day. He speaks his word to our lifeless souls and we arise. It is a word of life!
One way to ponder today’s gospel is to see ourselves spiritually among the villagers of Naim. Naim represents the condition of the world in the darkness of sin. It is an image of the human family that does not yet know the power of Jesus Christ. We are all born as residents of this village. We are burdened, painfully aware of the sufferings we must endure in life – weakness, injustice, sickness, death. All of these problems are represented by the death of the young man. It looks like an impossible situation. What hope do we have of escaping life’s endless series of sorrows? What consolation can we give to the grieving mother? We know it is only a matter of time before we lose our loved ones, and ultimately, we ourselves will be the ones carried away in a funeral procession. We are mourners, living in a community of mourners.
An extraordinary change takes place when Jesus Christ comes into our village! Looking at his face, the “face of mercy,” we see neither desolation nor condemnation, but rather compassion. He is moved with pity upon seeing our pathetic state. He approaches us in the midst of our helplessness and says, “Do not cry.” At first we are shocked at the strength of this command. No one has spoken to us like that before. Is he telling us that there is actually another way to view what looks like an irreversible tragedy? Why should we not cry? Because “God has visited his people.” Someone more powerful than death is here with us! The miracle Jesus performs in Naim is an irrefutable sign that God is present. He is not absent; he is not sleeping; he is not weak; he is not dead. Jesus is the Lord of life, and he has come to give us abundant life, life without end. Now we belong to a new “crowd,” the joyful community of Christ’s disciples.
When St. Paul met the Lord in a dramatic moment of conversion, he made the spiritual transition from darkness to light, from being a citizen of Naim to being a member of the Church. Paul knows from experience that the gospel is “no mere human invention” – because if it were, he would never have believed it. The risen Lord Jesus revealed himself to him personally. Now Paul is even more convinced of God’s power over death than the widowed mother is. Her son, whom Jesus raised back to life in this world, in time will have to die again. But those who live by faith in Jesus Christ will never die. This is the glorious message of St. Paul and of every believer. When we live by faith, we live forever.
We can make an additional reflection in light of yesterday’s feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The widowed mother of Naim also represents Mary, the widowed mother at the foot of the cross. As Mary mourns the death of her only Son, her heart is pierced by a sword of sorrow. Jesus proclaims her the Mother of the Church, telling the “beloved disciple” – who represents all of us – “Behold your Mother.” In his resurrection, the Lord does for Mary what he did for the widow. Mary receives her Son once again – and not only her Son, but all of us who are one with him in his Body the Church. When we repent and accept new life in Christ, we are children of Mary, sharing with her the gift of abundant life in Christ Jesus.
When faced with suffering, do I believe in the healing presence of Christ? Like Paul, am I willing to make a spiritual transition from darkness to light? Do I accept my place as a child of Mary who receives me with open arms?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 12, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.