Father Donald Senior, CP

Bible prompts us to ask ‘Who are the vulnerable among us?’

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Perspectives on Scripture

June 5: 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kgs 17:17-24; Gal 1:11-14, 15,16,17,19; Lk 7:11-17

A few months ago the whole world was shocked by a photo of a 3-year-old boy, Aylan Kurdi, lying face down in the water on the shores of Turkey, drowned with his mother and brother in their desperate flight to escape the violence and terror of Syria and to start a new life. In one vivid moment, that photo summed up the tragic waste of that conflict and the cost it is inflicting on innocent human life.

If there is a biblical image that summons up similar emotions, it is the classic plight of the widow who loses her only son. The biblical peoples were a clan or tribal people. There was no safety net apart from belonging to that extended family. Thus children were prized by parents not only because of ordinary parental love but because children were, in a sense, one’s social security — the ones who would take care of you when you were elderly or left on your own.

This explains the terror of the widow of Zarephath in the region of Sidon (present-day Lebanon) who, in our first reading today from the Book of Kings, fears that the presence of this foreign holy man — the great Jewish prophet Elijah — has somehow brought a curse on her only son and brought him to the brink of death. So, too, in the gripping story this Sunday from the Gospel of Luke, where upon entering the Galilean town of Nain Jesus encounters a funeral procession for the only son of a widow, who is convulsed with grief.

In a strange ritual, Elijah lays his body three times on the lifeless boy and he revives. His mother, the widow, is ecstatic. “Now indeed I know that you are a man of God. The word of the Lord comes truly from your mouth!”

Luke certainly intends to paint Jesus as a prophet in the mold of Elijah, the greatest of Israel’s prophets, but Jesus is even more awesome. The son of the widow of Nain is already dead and about to be buried, but Jesus simply touches the young man’s coffin and summons him back from the realm of the dead: “Young man, I tell you arise!” He does and begins to speak.

The Gospel notes, Jesus “gave him back to his mother.” We can only guess the depths of her joy and relief and wonder. In a sense the crowd’s reaction speaks for her: “Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, crying out, ‘A great prophet has arisen in our midst, and God has visited his people.’”

The Old Testament frequently speaks of God’s tender care for the “widow, the orphan and the stranger.” In both our Scripture passages for this Sunday we see such divine care exemplified in the ministries of Elijah and Jesus. For we Christians who find the deepest meaning of our lives in following Jesus, these biblical examples are not some sentimental stories but moral guideposts.

The Jesus of the Gospels who is a powerful healer also instructs his followers to be healers as well. As the church recalls at baptism, we are filled with the same Spirit that animated Jesus, and Elijah before him.

These biblical examples prompt us to ask who are the vulnerable people within our sight? Who are the “widows and orphans” whom society leaves on their own? In this election season, some are asking just such questions while others ignore these problems or speak contemptuously of the poor.

Admittedly the answers are often not simple. We can respond to the immediate needs of someone we encounter in distress with money or shelter or food or simple kindness. But how do we protect whole groups and strata of our society? The chronic poor, immigrants who are desperately seeking shelter and a viable way of life, the permanently unemployed?

Our church does a lot: Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, St. Vincent de Paul societies, our parish shelters and food pantries. Even in the face of great challenges, the Gospel still invites each of us to find ways we can respond.


  • scripture