What is a parent’s worst nightmare? Those of us who are parents know the answer immediately: the death of a child. What could be more heartbreaking? How could we live the rest of our lives with such grief? How could God let such a thing happen?
Two of today’s readings tell of the death of a child and its return to life. In the first, Elijah “stretched himself out upon the child three times and called out to the LORD: O LORD, my God, let the breath return to the body of this child.” And the child revived and Elijah gave him back to his mother.
In the second, Jesus sees a funeral cortège and stops the coffin bearers with the touch of his hand on the bier. He says to the mother, a widow of the town of Nain, “Do not weep.” And then he says to the dead man, “Young man, I tell you, arise!” And Jesus gave him to his mother.
How can this be? A worst nightmare comes true, and then is driven away by the resurrection of two dead children?
Now notice in the first reading, the mother berates Elijah. She thinks he has killed her son because of some past transgression of hers. She does not blame God, neither Elijah’s God nor her own, but accuses her guest, whom she acknowledges as a “man of God.”
Without being asked, Elijah takes the boy to the upper room and revives him. This is the first instance of a resurrection in Scripture and it causes the widow of Zarephath to recognize and acknowledge, ““Now I know that you truly are a man of God and that Jehovah’s word in your mouth is truth.”
God, through the actions of Elijah and the declaration of the widow, demonstrates his power on earth.
And so it was in Nain, where Jesus revives another widow’s son. In this Gospel story, Jesus approaches the dead man on his own volition. No one asked him to, no one accused him of causing the death of the young man. But he has pity on her and gives her back her son.
This story is from Luke, Chapter 7. You might remember in Luke 4 Jesus, talking to the people of Nazareth, says:
For instance, I tell you in truth: There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and a great famine came on all the land. Yet Elijah was sent to none of those women, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.
Why were these women chosen? Why should they be the recipients of a divine miracle and not many others? How does God’s favor fall upon some while some suffer pain and death?
Let us turn to the second reading, Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. This story too is one of resurrection. Paul’s “revelation” that Jesus is the Christ and that Saul, who persecuted the Christians, will, under a new name, awaken in many a new life with the good news of Jesus Christ. Here also, Saul did not ask for divine assistance. It was thrust upon him as he falls to the ground.
Three different stories, three separate returns to new life, three unasked-for benefits from God.
What could be more joyful? How wonderful to live the rest of their lives with such astonishment? Why did God sanction such things to happen?
The same questions, in reverse, so to speak, we asked at the beginning of this sermon.
Perhaps there is an answer in the Responsorial Psalm:
Hear, O LORD, and have pity on me;
O LORD, be my helper.
You changed my mourning into dancing;
O LORD, my God, forever will I give you thanks.
But even here there is no answer…no clue as to why one is saved and another is thrust down into the pit.
The question that rings through all the ages: “Why me?” And its obverse, “Why not me?” For the good we bear in life and for the troubles we also know. Why? Why not?
But as we pray for an answer, let us go into our own rooms, shut the door, and contemplate. This is what we consider, as Tennyson speaks to us:
Her eyes are homes of silent prayer,
Nor other thought her mind admits
But, he was dead, and there he sits,
And he that brought him back is there.
That is what we know. That is all we know. The rest is faith, isn’t it? He that brought him back is there with her…and with us, is he not?
The readings these last few days in the Liturgy of the Hours have been following the story of Job. Didn’t his friends ask the same questions? But Job says simply, “I know that my redeemer liveth.” He has faith.
Perhaps some need proofs. Perhaps some need miracles. Perhaps some only need faith. What we do know is that God expects us to have faith. Jesus asks us to have faith, and that is what his followers preach to us. The peace that passeth all understanding.
And now, as my prayer, I should like to sing this song with you:
How Great Thou Art
O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!