09 June, 2013

Homily for the Second Sunday after Trinity (C) 2013

Readings 1Kings 17:17-24 and Luke 7:11-17 
Jesus said, ‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’ and the dead man sat up and began to speak (7:15) 

When I was a teenager I travelled every day about 30miles on a coach to attend high school. If the journey into the city in the early hours of the morning was marked by the sleepy faces of my fellow students, the journey home would have appeared the polar opposite; happy, rowdy teenagers that looked more like captives returning home.
During these journeys home some of us would group together and put the world to right as only teenagers can do. The heated and markedly partisan character of our debates would not change even though our topics could swiftly move from sport, to religion, to politics in the matter of seconds. There were no debating societies in Italy – at least that I know of – but the closest things we had to them back then were student coaches.
Occasionally, a few churchgoing teens and I were grilled by others. Our opponents, as it were, were not necessarily malicious in their questioning; in fact, more often than not, they were trying to articulate their desire of believing, and a longing for understanding the faith of the Church. Needless to say, my friends and I were not trained speakers, nor were we evangelists, but we did try our best to communicate our beliefs and defend the faith.
One afternoon one girl raised her objection to the Christian faith just before getting off at her stop. “I could agree that Jesus was a good man” she said, “someone who did good things for others; but I can’t believe that he was the Son of God or anything like that”. Her sentiment has remained with me until today, and I suspect it will haunt me for more years to come.
Think about it. I am pretty sure many of you may have encountered this type of scepticism as well; and many of you have defended the faith against similar objections. A great chunk of our society, as well as many people within the church, would agree with that girl even today; “Jesus was a good man, perhaps an excellent man, but nothing more”.

The readings we have heard this morning, however, present us with a very different view about Jesus. On the one hand, Jesus could be misunderstood just as an astonishing healer who borders on the paranormal and who tours the countryside doing good wherever possible; but on the other hand, St Luke introduces several clues about the real identity of Jesus – a divine character that goes beyond being a philanthropist, beyond doing good to others, and beyond the man Jesus himself.

I would like to focus on two of these aspects. First, in today’s reading St Luke affirms for the first time in his gospel that Jesus is Lord – as we read that the Lord saw (7:13) the widow. Luke does not say “Jesus, the carpenter’ son saw the widow”, he does not just say “Jesus saw the widow”, but he says “the Lord saw her”. Luke will repeat this affirmation of faith other times in his gospel.
Secondly, in our story Jesus is portrayed as one possessing divine authority. If we compare Jesus behaviour with Elijah’s in the first reading we see that Elijah, described as the man of God (1Kings 17:24), obtains the resurrection of the widow’ son through prayer and the performance of ritual, whilst Jesus, described as the Lord (7:13), displays his power through his own will as he says, ‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’ (7:14).
In the gospel story there is no need for Jesus to take the deceased to a separate place, to pray, and to perform ritual action as Elijah did. Indeed, it is all over in two verses of the narrative; the Lord sees with mercy the precarious situation of the lonely widow and decides to intervene saying, ‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’ (7:14).

The faith of the Church demands us to recognise in Jesus more than just a legendary healer or a philanthropist who has been turned into a myth. Our faith demands us to worship him as Lord and to acknowledge that in Jesus God has visited his people beginning with the marginalised, the poor, and the outcast.
Occasions in which we will be suddenly called to defend the faith in the face of those who cannot accept Jesus as Lord and God will never go away. These occasions will present themselves in the most prosaic of situations such as a friendly discussion on a coach journey or a session down the pub. However, today’s readings point us towards the truth about Jesus, a truth we are called to hold firmly with both hands and to share with other people.

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