Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thursday of the Fourth Week in Lent

4 Kings 4:25-38 / Luke 7:11-16

Theologians have a tendency, and they are right in doing so, of directing us away from confining our consideration of God to his relationship with ourselves as individuals. They insist that God is always concerned with us not merely as discrete units, autonomous persons, but rather precisely insofar as we are related to others. This insight is, to be sure, justified not only by the scriptural witness in general, but by the very nature of God, who is himself three Persons in his divine unity. All the same, we can emphasize the communal character of a life in God in such a way that it appears to be competitive with the fulfilling of our private and personal hopes, dreams, and our desires. What a cold world the life of glory would be if it did not speak not only to the grief of the human race, but also and quite directly to my grief, my pain, my sorrow.

We see just this concern on God's part in the story of the widow of Naim. If we attempted to highlight the communal character of the story, we might note that the woman is designated as a widow, and so without a husband to meet her needs and attend to her well-being. Likewise, the man whose body is being brought out for burial is her only son. We might, then, want to make the story one about the woman's alienation from a network of care, from a supportive and sustaining community, and the miracle worked by Jesus Christ in the raising of her son from the dead as a restoration of the bonds of community that give her, and each of us, life.

We might do so, if it were not that the Gospel itself works against such a reading. In the widow, we meet not a woman who has been cut off from society and its support through the death of her husband and her only son, but rather a woman with an extensive bond of an active, interpersonal, sustaining society: and a great multitude of the city was with her. Her problem is not that she will be abandoned by a wicked social structure that does not attend to her needs. She is, rather, clearly loved by not a few of her fellow citizens.

Even so, her grief, her personal grief at the loss of her only son, a grief which Jesus surely could not help but associate with the inevitable but no less heart-breaking grief he knew would pierce his own mother's heart, is the object of Jesus' concern: Whom when the Lord had seen, being moved with mercy towards her, He said to her: Weep not. What the Gospel puts before us is not social action on behalf of the defenseless, but the heartache of heart of the Incarnate Lord in the face a woman who has lost her only son. It is her private grief, her personal pain, her own and special longing that is the source of his miraculous restoration of the young man to life.

In the light of this story, we ought to take heart. Jesus Christ does indeed care about our concerns and our losses. He wants to draw us to a new and glorious life imperishable, of course, but that does not exclude meeting us in our sorrow here and now, in this vale of tears. Let us take confidence in his mercy and not fail to seek his healing and comforting response to our ills and our sorrow. A great prophet is risen amongst us, and God hath visited His people.

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