Sunday, June 9, 2013


   Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time   C 

A Funeral Mass was offered
for a woman who had just passed away.
As the pallbearers carried her casket 
to the church door,
they accidently bumped its corner 
into the wall, jarring the coffin.
A faint moan was heard inside.
So they quickly opened it up
and found that the woman 
was amazingly still alive.
In fact, she lived for ten more years 
before dying.
A second Funeral Mass was then offered 
in the same church,
and the pallbearers again 
carried out her casket.
And as they made their way 
toward the church door,
the woman’s husband 
was heard shouting,
“This time, watch out for that wall!”

Because we always feel like we ought to say something,
people are prone to giving all kinds of advice at funerals.
Some of the worst advice is also, unfortunately, the most common:
“Be strong!” is how it’s generally conveyed.
The idea is usually to keep a stiff upper lip
in order to be of steady support for somebody else.
In my experience, anyway, that’s pretty bad advice.
What a grieving person often needs most
isn’t a strong shoulder on which to lean,
but another pair of teary eyes along with which to cry.

But here comes Jesus—in our Gospel this Sunday—
meeting a funeral procession on its way to the cemetery.
And what, pray tell, does Jesus say to the widow
who’s now lost her only son?
When the Lord saw her,
he was moved with pity for her
and said to her, “Do not weep.”

So much for my opinion on funeral advice!
…Or is it?
Let’s take a closer look at that single verse
from Luke’s gospel.

When the Lord saw her…
We take for granted that “Lord” is an appropriate title for Jesus,
and can forget what a weighty word it is.
Only a few lines before this one
is Jesus first addressed as Lord:
not by one of his disciples, nor by a pious Jew,
but by a Roman centurion—a pagan—
expressing his complete confidence in Jesus.
The centurion’s words are very familiar to us:
“Lord, …I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof,
…but say the word and let my servant be healed.” (7:6-7)
To call Jesus, “Lord,” is a profound expression of faith.
In the Old Testament, the name is reserved for God alone.
Jesus is not one mourner among so many others,
just waiting his turn to sign the guest register.
The crowds may soon come to think of him as a great prophet,
but from the start Luke wants us to know:
Jesus is Someone far greater than that.

When the Lord saw her,
he was moved with pity…
The original Greek text is a bit more earthy:
it says that Jesus “felt it in his gut.”
The expression shares roots with the Greek word for “womb.”
Jesus is able to identify completely
with the gut-wrenching loss this mother is suffering
because he himself knows the labor pains
of bringing new life into the world.  (cf. A. Matt)
How can he—you ask—
a man, a man who’s not a husband nor a father,
even begin to understand such a thing?
Because Jesus is not only a man:
he’s the Author of Life;
he’s the eternal Word which existed before the beginning
and through whom all things came to be;
he’s the Lord.

When the Lord saw her,
he was moved with pity for her
and said to her, “Do not weep.”
You see, Jesus can give funeral advice that we shouldn’t
because he’s able to do things that we can’t.
In Jesus, God himself is visiting his people.
Jesus has the uniquely divine power to give life!
And Jesus has the uniquely divine power to restore life again!

Blessed Pope John Paul II frequently pointed out
that contemporary society is caught up in a dramatic struggle
between the “culture of life”
and the “culture of death.”  (cf. Evangelium Vitae)
This potent language is most often used
in reference to the pro-life movement:
the “culture of death” referring to specific issues
such as abortion and euthanasia,
unjust war and environmental devastation.
But there are lots and lots of areas in modern life
where we run into this culture of death, aren’t there?
We can observe a death of manners and morals,
and the impact it is having on family life.
We see the global economy dying,
especially for the chronically unemployed and the working poor.
We witness death in politics,
as many elected officials seemingly have given up
on civil discourse and the primacy of the common good.
We perceive the Church to be dying,
as congregations are aging and parishes closing.
We experience so much death personally, too:
the loss of good health, the passing of a relationship,
the demise of hopes and dreams.
A culture of death is all around us.

Are we satisfied with this state of affairs?
Have we come to except
that this is simply the way things have to be?

Or can we recognize that there is another way?

What if we dared to honestly believe that this Jesus is Lord?
What if we actually believed that Jesus—
just as he did for that young man in Nain—
is still stepping forward to touch our coffins…
…and not simply to wipe away the tears of the grieving?
What if we genuinely believed that Jesus wants
to revitalize us and our families,
to reawaken faith in our parishes and community,
to revive our nation and mortally wounded world?
What if we truly believed
that Jesus can command what is dead to arise,
not because his word has the borrowed authority of a prophet,
but is itself the very breath of life?

My friends, I declare with St. Paul:
this is the Gospel—the Good News—that we preach!
We preach it in proclaiming the holy Scriptures.
We preach it celebrating the Eucharist and the other Sacraments.
We preach it serving the least of our brothers and sisters.
We preach it in the fact that we assemble—Sunday after Sunday—
on the selfsame day of the week
when Jesus was raised from the tomb.
This Gospel is not of human origin, but of divine revelation.
And it’s the Gospel of Life!
It’s all about resurrection.

Imagine how the culture would change around us
if we all lived like people who really believe
that Jesus Christ has conquered death—once and for all—
and has both the power and the desire to bring us back to life.
The world desperately needs us to be men and women
who carry this faith, this promise,
this everlasting hope within us.
If we believe this Gospel,
if we believe that Jesus Christ is Lord,
then when people who’ve already crawled into their caskets
happen to bump into us
they, too, will be awakened to life again
and say as did those folks at a funeral long ago:
“God, indeed, has visited his people.”

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