|Readings:||1 Kings 17:17-24
Galatians 1:11-14a, 15ac, 16a, 17, 19
|Date:||June 4-5, 2016 Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C|
Elijah brought him down from the upper room and gave him to his mother. Jesus gave [the boy] to his mother.
Both our first reading and the Gospel give accounts of the only son of a widow being brought back to life. As I am sure any of you who know someone who has lost a child, I cannot imagine what that is like. To sit with someone who is trying to wrap their mind around the loss of a child is one of the most humbling experiences I have had. There are just no words that meet the gravity of that situation. And the reality of that loss was even more on my mind this past weekend as I kept seeing the numbers of those who had died in service to our country, most of them young men an women who left behind parents. Now in both of these stories the focus is not on the death or even the bringing back to life of the son but before we look at these reading more deeply, I would like to invite all of us to take a few moments in silence to pray for anyone who has lost a child.
As I mentioned a few moments ago, the focus of these two stories is not the dead son but the widow. Both of these stories are meant to express to us the preferential love God has for those who are most in need. In the first reading, Elijah is sent by God specifically to this widow, to live with her during a year of famine. When Elijah shows up at her door, he asks her for some water and a little bread. The widow tells Elijah that she was just going out to get the last bit of flour and oil to make some bread for her and her son and then they were going to die because that was all they had. Elijah tells her to trust in his God that if she makes him some food, then her flour and her oil will not run out as long as the famine persists. She does trust, even though she is not an Israelite but a Gentile, and the jar of flour and the jug of oil continue to feed them for the whole year. A short while later her son falls ill and dies. To appreciate the seriousness of this, above that of the loss of any child, we have to realize that in that society at that time, a widow with no male relative to take care of her was destitute. She would be reduced to begging for a living. And so when Elijah sees this, he takes the boy's body and makes his fervent 3-fold plea to God to restore him to his mother. And God shows his mercy and love for that widow by bringing the boy to life. And Elijah brought him down from the upper room and gave him to his mother.
We don't know if Jesus intentionally led the crowd of disciples following him to meet up with the funeral party, but when they do meet, he goes right up to them, and was moved with pity for this widow. Unlike Elijah he doesn't have to plead with God 3 times; he simply commands the boy to arise. And those six words, "Jesus gave him to his mother", express such a moving picture of God's compassion in action.
From these two stories we learn a few things about God's mercy and love. First of all, it is personal. It is directed to a specific person in a specific context. And secondly it is delivered by a human being who encounters the person God is bestowing his mercy on. God's love and mercy are not some vague spiritual force that people somehow encounter. It is always delivered embodied in another human being.
So what does this have to do with us? As we embark on our implementation of our Collaborative Pastoral Plan to transform our two parishes into parishes that form and send out missionary disciples, I would suggest it has a lot to do with us. As Church we are to be active instruments of God's mercy and love. Like Paul, that is who God has set us apart to be. We are to be the body of Christ who takes pity on that widow and restores her to life along with her son. As we read about and hear from those who have successfully rebuilt parishes so that they form disciples in mission, we have been hearing over and over that the most important thing to focus on is the Sunday celebration of Eucharist. No where else do we encounter Christ in so many different ways that have the power to transform us more fully into the body of Christ who was sent into the world to bring God's love and mercy and forgiveness.
It is exactly that wisdom that has led us to enhance our weekend mass schedule. After many hours of prayer and deliberation and listening to feedback, we are excited that the new schedule will be an excellent framework for dramatically improving the quality of our worship, improving our hospitality, and provide exciting new opportunities to form us all more fully into the missionary disciples we are called to by baptism, such as reviving our Liturgy of the Word for Children, and aligning our G.I.F.T. session more closely with Mass. I know that any change comes with a little pain and a need to adjust but I am praying that we all see the new opportunities our two parishes will have to grow and become vibrant communities of committed missionary disciples. It is no secret that we have not have this kind of thriving parish in the past few decades, and I hope you share at least a little glimpse of what I see as calling on God's mercy to restore these two ailing parishes to the arms of Our Blessed Mother, restored to full life as were the two widows' sons.