10 Sunday - Choose Life

It's a dramatic scene when you think about it -- I mean -- a funeral procession halted and the trip to the cemetery interrupted. Of course it was not anything like our scene -- a black Cadillac hearse, followed by one or more black Cadillac limousines, followed perhaps by several cars, lights on, concerned not to lose their place in the line in the traffic.

No, this scene was at once more primitive and personal. No city traffic to contend with in this procession. No indifferent motorists disturbed that they were delayed a few minutes for the funeral. No, this is a village scene, people on foot, following the widowed mother who is following the professional mourners with their cymbals, flutes and high-pitched shrieking and wailing.

It is a Palestinian village scene in Nain, just a short distance from Nazareth (Jesus' hometown), and a day's walk from Capernaum (Jesus' new, adopted town). The pallbearers are carrying the body of a young man in a long wicker basket covered by a shroud for burial outside the city. Except for very important people, ancient Jews buried their dead outside the city, usually on the day of death or the next day. Embalming was not practiced.

For modern, indifferent eyes and blasé people, the scene was dramatic enough by itself. Think of it: the dead man was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. The pathos and sorrow of the ages is contained in that statement. In a patriarchal society orphans, such as this young man, and widows, like his mother, were regarded as vulnerable, weak and without much opportunity for economic support. Nonetheless, a great crowd followed the procession, indicating sympathy and support at least for the time being.
That's drama enough -- a large crowd of caring people -- but now there is more. Jesus approaches, apparently coming from Capernaum where he just healed the Roman Centurion's slave. He saw the widowed, desolate mother, had compassion for her, thinking perhaps of his own mother reputedly widowed at an early age.

"Do not weep," he told her. Her tears for her son no doubt now intermingling with the endless salty tears shed for her husband. And in the continuing drama risking ceremonial impurity, he reached out, touched the bier and possibly the body, and the procession halted...
1.     As a kid were you ever convinced that you HAD to be adopted?

I mean, really: how could you be related to your big-mouthed brother when you are so reserved and quiet? . . . Your math genius parents could never have produced your brain - a brain that can't add up anything without using fingers and toes. . . . How can you be related when you can play almost any musical instrument and your sister is completely tone deaf?

As our personalities develop, as our individual quirks and oddities, likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses reveal themselves, we begin to perceive ourselves as truly "different" from everyone else - even our closest family members. But that does not mean - even if you ARE adopted - that your family isn't still your family. Despite all our differences, we are always connected at some foundational level.

As the "family" that was the first century Christian church took shape, it would be hard to find two more radically different personalities than Peter and Paul. Tradition says that both Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome in 64 AD. There is even one theory that Peter and Paul may have been buried together in the same grave at Rome. (See Walter Lowrie, Peter and Paul at Rome [New York: Oxford University Press, 1940]).

But besides sharing death and perhaps burial in common, as well as a passion for Jesus, Peter and Paul were almost opposites. And this is in more ways than looks - if iconography gives us any clue, Peter is tall, stout and bushy-haired and Paul is small, thin and balding...
2.     Jesus Can, Jesus Will  

You know, I passed a funeral on the road the other day: a hearse followed by a long line of cars all burning their headlights in broad daylight. I followed our quaint Southern custom of pulling off the road and stopping until they were past to honor the deceased and show respect to his loved ones. Because I did not know the people involved, I hardly gave it a second thought, and continued on my way as soon as they were past. But Jesus, as it were, flipped on his own lights, turned his car around, and joined the procession to the gravesite.

As a Minister of the Gospel I have often had to preside at funerals. There one has the great privilege of offering comfort, sympathy, support, and hope based on the glorious Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. But there is also in such moments a feeling of impotence. I can offer hope for the future, but I cannot reverse what has happened in the immediate past. I can offer comfort for the present, but I cannot fill the gap that has been left in people's lives. But the point of this passage is that Jesus could. The point of this passage is that Jesus can. The point of this passage is that Jesus will.

Donald T. Williams, The Widow of Nain's Son
3.     The Power of Death Reversed 

Alfred Krupp, a famous munitions maker, lived in constant fear of death. Everyone throughout his entire company was strictly forbidden to refer to the subject of death in conversation. He ran from his own house because a relative of his wife's suddenly died there. And when Mrs. Krupp objected, Alfred became so enraged that he initiated what was to be a lifelong separation. During his last sickness, he offered his doctor a million dollars to prolong his life. But, of course, that was impossible.

Death has very real power. Money and prestige and position aren't going to change that. Visits and phone calls and sympathy cards aren't going to change that. Preachers and churches and expensive funerals aren't going to change that.  

Jesus enters into the situation with strange words and even stranger actions, words and actions that at first glance seem totally out of place. He says to the widow, "Don't cry." And then He touches the funeral board, so that all attention will be focused on Him as He addresses the carefully wrapped corpse. "Young man I say to you, get up!" Jesus doesn't wrestle in prayer to His Father. He doesn't struggle in deep spiritual warfare. He simply commands the corpse to get up. And catch this. His command reverses the powers of darkness and death! His command transforms a funeral procession into a family reunion. 

Ron Luchies, A God With Heart
4.     Death is not extinguishing the light from the Christian; it is putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.
5.     Ah, that's the reason a bird can sing

On his darkest day he believes in Spring. 

Douglas Malloch (1877-1938), You Have to Believe
6.     Two Processions

Two processions - one going into Nain and headed up by Jesus, the Lord of Life; the other going out of Nain and headed up by death.

The two processions are on a collision course. Can't you just see it?! This kinds of reminds me of two freight trains hurtling towards each other on the same track. Or, it reminds me of the movie, "The Patriot" starring Mel Gibson with a long line of British Redcoats and a long line of American Revolutionaries charging towards each other. You know something has to give.

Most people have come to believe that death never gives way. We've always been told that the two certain things in life are death and taxes. Death comes upon every person. The statistics are most impressive, 100% of those who have ever been born have died. And again, with a few exceptions, most of those who have died have stayed dead. Death is certain and death is immovable. When the young man entered death, it was his final step. When death takes hold of a person, there is no return, no going back, no appeal, no argument. Death is the end and it has the last word. And in our Scripture passage we see that it has spoken on the life of the only son of a widow in Nain.

However, coming to meet the procession headed by death is the procession headed by Jesus. Jesus also came to have the last word. Jesus is life Himself and He came that people should have life and have it to the full.

What will happen when these two processions meet at the town gate of Nain? Will it be the procession headed by Jesus or will it be the procession headed by the coffin and the corpse that gives way?

Adrian Dieleman, Don't Cry
7.     Don't Deny the Existence of Trouble 

Any daily newspaper recounts tragic story after story of premature deaths, fractured relationships, and broken dreams. Indeed, we need not turn to any newspaper for an accounting of the world's troubles and sorrows. We have only to look at our own friends and neighbors and families. We have only to look into our own lives and hearts. Jesus, the healer and power-giver, never insulted people by telling them their problems weren't real. He never told the sick they were never really sick or that their illness had no pain or reality. He never told people that death wasn't real, nor did he offer this widowed mother Pollyannaish pabulum to soothe her grieving heart.

I am reminded of a friend of mine living in Indiana where tornadoes are frequent. His young son had a special fear of storms. One day, when a storm threatened, the father took his son to the front of their lovely, substantial home, pointed out across the neighborhood, and said to the boy, "There, you see everything is okay. These are solid homes and we are safe and dry in them." About that time a tornado touched down a block away and utterly destroyed several of these "substantial" homes. The storms of the natural world are real just as are the storms of the spiritual, psychological world. Trouble and tragedy are real. Evil and death are real. Jesus never said to his disciples on the stormy Sea of Galilee, "This is no storm. The storm is in your mind." He never said that. Instead he said to the storm, "Peace, be still." And it was. Are you out of a job? Did your home decline in value? Are your financial resources dwindling? Do you have a serious illness? Is your marriage not right? Is there a real problem with the children? Are you enslaved in a debilitating habit? Then don't deny it, says Jesus. The widow never said her son wasn't dead. Admit the problems. Don't deny them.

Maurice A. Fetty, The Divine Advocacy, CSS Publishing Company
8.     We Are in the Middle of It 

Years ago a man was traveling by ship with his young daughter across the ocean. Earlier that particular Sunday he had preached a sermon about God's love. It had been a very difficult service to preach, because he was newly widowed.  

He was standing against the rail of the ship, looking out at the vast and magnificent ocean, when his daughter asked him if God loved them as much as they had loved her late mother.

"Of course He does," answered her father. "There is absolutely nothing bigger or more powerful and all-consuming than God's love for us. It's the biggest thing there is!" The little girl pressed on for more information, wanting to know exactly how big God's love was. Finally her father with great tenderness said, "Well, look across the sea as far as you can. Look up and down and all around. God's love stretches around to cover all of that; above the blue sky and deeper than the deepest part of the ocean underneath us." 

The little girl pondered for a minute and replied, "And to think Daddy, we're right in the middle of it." And we are. We're right in the middle of God's love. We don't need a miracle to tell us that. Most of us have known God's love all our lives. Of course, that is not to say that miracles do not occur. They do--to the eyes of faith.

 King Duncan
9.     The Widow of Nain 

Christ said, 'Weep Not,' but still she went on weeping
he mother thus, how will the son obey?
'Young Man, arise;' lo! From the bier up-leaping,
The Dead proved quicker than the quick that day. 

Anonymous, Poets' Life of Christ, compiled by Norman Ault
10.  Who Jesus Raised to Life 

If you ask most Christians who Jesus raised to life, the most common response you would get would be "Lazarus." How could we miss the story of the raising of the brother of Mary and Martha? The three days in the tomb caused the sisters to warn Jesus that Lazarus would "stinketh." What a great word, "stinketh"! It sounds like something you would say about a high school locker room after a big basketball game. The resurrection story found in the chapter 11 of the Gospel of John is THE story that springs to mind when we talk about the incredible power of Jesus even over the minions of death. But here in chapter 7 of Luke, we have another miraculous resurrection of an individual without much fanfare or comment: a miracle that ranks right up there with walking on water and bringing sight to the blind, but which gets less than exciting press coverage. I have a feeling that we tend to leave it alone because we get embarrassed by it.

You see, this is a miracle without much explanation or theological intrigue. It happens so quickly that we read it, swallow hard and move on.  

Alexander H. Wales, The Chain Of Command, CSS Publishing ____________________________
11.  The Price of Mourning

 The home of Paul Laurence Dunbar, noted poet, is open to the public in Dayton, Ohio. When Dunbar died, his mother left his room exactly as it was on the day of his death. At the desk of this brilliant man was his final poem, handwritten on a pad.

After his mother died, her friends discovered that Paul Laurence Dunbar's last poem had been lost forever. Because his mother had made his room into a shrine and not moved anything, the sun had bleached the ink in which the poem was written until it was invisible. The poem was gone.  

If we stay in mourning, we lose much of life.

 Henry Simon
Fr. Jude Botelho:

The first reading describes one of Elijah’s miracles, namely raising the dead child of the widow of Zarephath. Without debating whether the child was dead or not there is certainly a deep truth behind it, namely, that God is master over death. Like many of us the widow believes that misfortune is a punishment for sin, a belief that Jesus came to shatter. The widow learns that God’s word in the prophet’s mouth is truth, it does what it says and is life-giving! Through the prophet God visits his people.

“Look, he’s moving!”
Three friends from the local congregation were asked, “When you are in your casket and friends and congregation members are mourning over you, what would you like them to say?” Artie said: “I would like them to say I was a wonderful husband, a spiritual leader and a great family man.” Eugene commented: “I would like them to say I was a wonderful teacher and servant of God who made a huge difference in people’s lives. Al said: “I’d like them to say, ‘Look, he’s moving!’”
John Pichappilly in ‘The Table of the Word’

In today’s gospel, Jesus goes to Nain, where a widow’s dead son is being carried for his burial. Imagine the scene: a mother grieving the death of a son, without the comfort and support of her husband. Understand her sorrow as she is deprived of the support and protection of husband or son. All hope lay dead in the coffin. Jesus comes forward. He cannot pass by. He intervenes. Jesus feels compassion for the widow and consoles her: “Do not cry!” He touches the coffin and with one word life is restored. He resuscitates the dead youth and hands him over to his mother. Jesus didn’t just offer a word of sympathy to the widow; he intervened in what had happened to her and her son. He brought the kingdom of heaven into the lives of these two people, and all those gathered around to witness this amazing miracle. In so doing Jesus showed them all what God was like, and what Jesus is all about. No wonder the people felt: “God has visited his people.” Today, God continues to visit us through His word in the Bible and through the sacraments –especially the Eucharist. Do we recognize him? Imagine how it would feel to be that woman, or to be witness to that powerful act of compassion. Or even imagine ourselves to be one restored to life. What would we want to do? At every Eucharist, as we celebrate the dying and rising of Jesus, God and the Church invites us to experience our own lives being restored. Rejoice! You are made alive by Him!

An experience of Resurrection
Raising the young man from the dead and returning him to his powerless widowed mother was Jesus’ most forceful way of teaching that evil and sinfulness do not win out in this imperfect world. He was pronouncing that love and kindness and peacefulness are, in the last analysis, the greatest strengths in the human condition, and that violence and hatred and spitefulness are the weapons of fools. The wisdom of the world often seems to proclaim just the opposite. Human beings cry out: “If you are too thoughtful, people will walk all over you.” An old saying constantly advises us. “Fight fire with fire.” Even a certain spirit of athletes tells us, “Nice guys don’t win ball games.” The widow’s experience speaks of a different reality. There is no way to prove conclusively that life triumphs over death, that good triumphs over evil, that nonviolence triumphs over violence. We simply must take Jesus’ word for it. Jesus promised to empower the powerless, to give hope to those who have no hope. I would wager that, from the time of the miracle, the widow was one of the most optimistic people of Nain!
Eugene Lauer in ‘Sunday Morning insights’

Personal Resurrection
Darryl Stinger was a wide receiver for the New England patriots in the 1970s. He was hit in a game with the Oakland Raiders and left paralyzed from chest down. Today he can only use one hand and gets around in an electric wheelchair. Darryl insists that in some ways his life is better now. Looking back at his pro football days, he says, “I had tunnel vision. All I wanted was to be the best athlete I could, and a lot of things were overlooked. Now I have come back to them. This is a rebirth for me… I really have a lot more meaning and purpose to live for now.” Those are incredible words from a young man whose dreams of stardom lie buried in an electric wheelchair. But you hear similar things from others who have suffered similar tragedies. They all talk about a personal ‘resurrection’ to new life. They also testify to the central mystery of our faith. Jesus is risen, alive and active in people’s lives today.
Mark Link in ‘Journey’

The Miracle!
A movie director could hardly create a more dramatic scene than the one in today’s gospel. But let’s imagine the scene fades and another takes its place. It’s night fall and we’re inside the town of Nain. The public square is jammed with people celebrating and talking about the miracle. One old man says to another: “How do you explain what happened today? Why did Jesus work that miracle? Was it only because he pitied the widow?” The other man pauses a moment and says: “No, I think there is more to it than that. I think we have to see this miracle alongside the other miracles of Jesus restoring health to the sick, sight to the blind, and healing to the deaf. Remember what the prophet Isaiah said? He said that certain signs would announce the arrival of God’s kingdom and the Messiah. I think Jesus’ miracle today is another sign that God’s kingdom has arrived and that Jesus is the promised Messiah.”
Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’


At a retreat for peace, conducted in Los Angeles by Thick Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk, some American veterans of the War were invited to attend and share their stories. A veteran told how one day during the war he captured a young Vietnamese soldier. With his hands clasped on his head, the Vietnamese soldier captive fell down on his knees and crawled. Moved by the look of absolute terror in his enemy’s eyes, the American soldier began to ask him questions through an interpreter: “How old are you?” “Nineteen.” “So am I.” “What do you do?” “I’m a student.” “So am I.” “Do you have a girlfriend?” “Yes” “So do I.” Then reaching into his haversack, the young American pulled out a tin of beans, gave it to his enemy and let him go. At first the Vietnamese ran as fast as he could, zigzagging back and forth for fear he would be shot in the back. Then suddenly he turned, raised the tin of beans high over his head, bowed a deep bow and disappeared into the jungle. For this Vietnamese soldier a tin of beans was a feast to be shared. From that day on the young American soldier marched with his gun turned down.” –Everyday there may be an opportunity to show compassion in action. Do I look for them?
Gerard Fuller in ‘Stories for All Seasons’

The Widow of Nain

If healing is understood in antiquity as the restoration of meaning to life, then whose life has had greater meaning restored to in this story? Contemporary Western individuals who have had a ‘near death’ experience and were then resuscitated, or ‘restored to life’ recount their disappointment in returning to ‘this world.’ While we cannot validly apply these experiences to antiquity, it would seem that the young man restored to life was restored to a comfortably secure male existence in a Mediterranean culture. The widowed mother, on the other hand, who lost her son, lost everything of value in her world. Even her life lost meaning. To have her son restored by Jesus is to have been given a new lease of meaningful life in that world. For all the good that science has bestowed upon us, it has often robbed us of the ability to see dimensions of life such as those presented in this gospel story. Which ‘dead’ person has been restored to life in this story? What do you think?”
John Pilch in ‘The Cultural World of Jesus’

A widow’s wonderful deliverance

In the winter of 1855, in Iowa, the snow fell early in November. The storm was such that neither man nor beast could move against it. In a log cabin, six miles from her nearest relative, lived a widow with five children. The supply of food was over, and as usual, the woman called the little ones around her to hear the Scriptures before commending them to the Heavenly Father’s care. Then bowing in prayer, she pleaded that help from God might come. Believing in the firm promises of God, she went to bed, without any care or fear for the morrow. Next morning, just as she went to the kitchen a man in a sleigh drove up to her house and enquired how they were getting along. In a short time he was told something of their destitution and of her cry to God for help. He replied, “Last night, about nine o’clock, my wife and I were both impressed that you were in need. Spending almost a sleepless night, I hastened at early dawn, to come and enquire about the case.” Then, taking from the sleigh, he handed over bread, meat and groceries to the mother to prepare breakfast for the kids. The stranger had never been in that house before, nor had he ever showed any interest in that woman, but he ever afterwards proved a friend indeed.
John Rose in 'John’s Sunday Homilies’

Fr. Tony's Collection of Stories:

# 1: No Bible for his Presidential inauguration: Did you know that the first president of the United States to refuse to use the Bible at his inauguration was Franklin Pierce, the 14th President? The reason is rather interesting. When Pierce had been elected, he and Mrs. Pierce and their son, two weeks before the inauguration, were taking a trip to Concord, New Hampshire, and, of course, they were doing it by train. The train had not gone far out of the Concord Station, when there was a lurch, a jolt, and the car the Pierces were in tumbled off the tracks and down an embankment. Neither the president nor his wife was injured in the accident, but their son was killed. Franklin Pierce brooded over this, as would most of us. He asked the question of God that so many of us would have asked. Why would God at this moment of triumph permit this tragedy in their lives? He was so upset by this that he refused to allow the Bible to be used at the inauguration. [People (February 6, 1989), pp. 47-51.] Today’s gospel story describes how Jesus transforms the despair and sorrow of a widow by raising her only son from death. 

# 2: "I still have arthritis. But it doesn't have me!"  For years, Byron Janis, proclaimed as one of the world's great piano virtuosos, has been fighting the effects of crippling psoriatic arthritis. His struggle, though offering no easy answers, is inspiring. He could not  make a fist. The right wrist's motion was limited to 40%. The little finger on the left hand was numb, partially paralyzed and scarred from a childhood accident. The joints of the other nine fingers are fused. There is mobility in only one distal joint, that of the middle finger of the left hand. "Learning to live with pain," he says, "or live with a limitation can give an intensity to life. I thought I had nothing. Now I know I have everything. I'm saying to others, 'If I can do it, so can you!'" Janis lists the various means he tried, seeking help for his condition, ranging from medical doctors to acupuncturists, but adds, "What helped me most, I can't explain. I developed a very personal relationship with God. I think prayer is important. I think the belief in God is healing." "No one knows what it's like for other people, but I know that, unless I found a belief in God, I would never have been able to say what I have to say. God works with man and man with God. Not one alone." "I still have arthritis. But it doesn't have me!"  That is the testimony of countless others. I have problems but they don't have me. Why? Because there is One who sees and understands and is able to meet my every need. The example is seen in today’s gospel. 

# 3:  “That crypt’s got the most lipstick on it.”  Frances Jerz, sixty-five, lost her husband. She told columnist Roger Simon of the Chicago Sun-Times that even after three years, she still cries. Mr. Jerz had been a machine operator and was approaching retirement when he succumbed to cancer. Every Sunday Mrs. Jerz gets dressed up like he’s there in the house with her. Her daughter drives her to the cemetery. She touches the stone and she feels like he’s close to her. “That crypt’s got the most lipstick on it,” she says. “I kiss it every time I’m there.” [James C. Hefley, Life Changes (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1984), p. 97.] Some of you can relate to her pain. Some people have a terrible time dealing with the loss of a spouse. Life comes to a grinding halt. That's what happened to the widow in today’s gospel who lost her only son in death.