Collect: Let Thy continual pity, O Lord, cleanse and fortify Thy Church; and, because without Thee it cannot be safely established, let it ever be governed by Thy grace.
“When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions” (Hamlet IV, v).
Such was the lot of the poor widow of the tiny Galilean backwater Naim, about whom we will hear in Sunday’s Gospel.
Having lost her husband to death, death has also now claimed this widow’s only-begotten son, in Greek monogenes, the same word used by John to describe the Lord (e.g., 1:14). With the last breath of her son, this widow became one of the most vulnerable people in that culture. Without a male to head her household, she was suddenly one of the anawim, from the Hebrew for “cast down”. At the time, it was believed that the death of a woman’s husband before old age was a sign of God’s disfavor.
One pictures this widow, like fellow-widow Ruth, eventually having to glean the remaining sheaves of wheat along the edges of the fields, left unharvested by God’s command for the poor (Ruth 2). One pictures her like the widow of Zarephath (cf 1 Kings 17), whose parallel indeed she is, preparing to die of starvation during the punishing drought. The Prophet Elijah comes to her and he eats the last of the food she had for herself and her only son. After the Prophet miraculously multiplies their oil and flour, saving them from starvation, her son sickens and dies. Elijah raises him from the dead.
This Sunday the Lord reveals Himself as the new Elijah in the raising of the son of the widow of Naim. In the sight of the large burial procession, with no regard for the menacing ritual uncleanness resulting from contact with the bier of a corpse, Jesus stopped them all with a touch and raised her son with a word. Alfred Edersheim (+1889) describes the moment: “One word of power burst through the sluices of Hades, and out flowed once again the tide of life.”
Some people said that Christ was a great prophet, surely thinking of Elijah. Others said that “God has visited His people”.
The latter were really onto something.
The readings we are given by Holy Mother Church, repeated year in, year out, have contexts. When you begin, perhaps on Thursday or Friday, to prepare your participation at Sunday Mass, preview the readings and orations so that you can actively receive them as they are pronounced or sung. Look at the surrounding contexts of the Epistle and the Gospel. Context can enrich you even more when at Mass you hear the readings as they are raised to God.
This Sunday, for example, our pericope, our Gospel selection, ends just before we hear that the disciples of the imprisoned John the Baptist have told John what happened. John sends them back with the question, “Are you he who is to come?” At that very time, Christ has been curing diseases, giving sight to the blind and casting out demons. Christ doesn’t answer the question with a direct “Yes.” Instead, he instructs John’s messengers to return and tell his precursor that, “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them“ (Luke 7:22). John, and others listening, would have immediately made the connection with Isaiah 35, the prophesy of the coming not just of the Messiah, but of God Himself and the renewal of creation. In other words, by his miraculous works Christ is revealing Himself to be divine. This is why, moments later, he tells everyone, “blessed is he who takes no offense at me.” It would be precisely His affirmation of divinity that led to His crucifixion.
Last week we heard about how God has all things in His hand, and so we should have hope and not be anxious. At Naim, Our Lord had all these events in His hand as well, for the aid of the no doubt anxious, even terrified, sorrowing widow. For Christ to make the connection with Isaiah 35 for the messengers from John, He would have had to not only heal lepers, as we heard in the Gospel two weeks ago (Elisha only healed one and Christ healed ten) He would have had to raise the dead. He had not yet raised Jairus’ daughter. That occurs in the next chapter, Luke 8. The “day after” (Greek hexes) Christ healed the Centurion’s servant at Capernaum, Christ arrived at insignificant, out of the way Naim at exactly the right moment: when the funeral procession, with a large crowd, was taking a frightened widow’s only-begotten son for burial.
Consider that Naim, 700 feet above sea level, is about 30 miles from Capernaum, 600 feet below sea level. That’s a steep and long hike, probably accomplished partly at night. It was spiring. Daytime was not yet at its longest. Christ, striving uphill, perhaps in the dark, must have really wanted to get to Naim on that very “next day.”
Look at the lengths, with His hard uphill march, to which Our Savior went to help the widow of Naim.
Look at the lengths to which He went to save us all from our sins. Having everything in hand, He opened His hands and went uphill to His Cross.
If you are perhaps enveloped in mourning or concern, struck with anxiety and fear about your lot or that of a loved one, remember the resolute tenderness of the Lord for the widow of Naim. If you are lonely or can’t see a way forward, know that Jesus has the same compassion for you as for her. He will extend it to you in the way He knows you most have need of it.
There is more than one way to raise someone from the dead. Could it be that you yourself are meant to be the consolation to some other struggling “widow of Naim”? You may be Christ’s means of bringing His consolation, striving uphill, perhaps in the dark yourself, bearing to that person Jesus’ own wounded bright Heart in your caring attention and mercy. As Paul wrote to the Galatians (6:2), and we will hear on Sunday, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”
Convert from Lutheranism, ordained to the priesthood in 1991 by St. John Paul II in Rome for the Suburbicarian Diocese of Velletri-Segni. Classics at University of Minnesota. Licence and Doctoral studies in Patristic Theology at the Augustinianum in Rome. Formerly a collaborator of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei,” moderator of the Catholic Online Forum, columnist for The Wanderer and the UK’s Catholic Herald, Fox News contributor. Speaker. Blogist. fatherzonline.com @fatherz