Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Through Christ Alone!



THE GOOD news for the Third Sunday after Pentecost comes to us from the witness of Saint Luke. The lesson provided here speaks of Resurrection power…

“Soon afterward he (Jesus) went to a city called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the city, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a large crowd from the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ 
 And he came and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’  And the dead man sat up, and began to speak. And he gave him to his mother. 
 Fear seized them all; and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ and ‘God has visited his people!’  And this report concerning him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country. “ 
                                                                                                            (Luke 7:11-17)

A New School?
In this singular gospel narrative, as recorded only in Luke, Jesus approached the gate of Nain with his disciples and followers. A funeral procession was coming from the city bearing the body of a man who had died, leaving his widowed mother without support.
 After reassuring the mother, Jesus touched the bed carrying the body. This act alone… put this wondrous occasion and his participation outside of accepted old world practice, for no rabbi would deign to touch a deathbed. It was considered unclean. And it was, that is unless the person doing the touching was a prophet.
 Indeed this move by Jesus, firmly rooted in historical tradition, placed him as a self-revealed prophet amongst the people. He boldly stood before them as a healer and prophet, working in the order of at least two earlier traditional predecessors… Elijah and Elisha. We read in the Old Testament that Elijah brought to life the son of a widow in Zaraphath; as referred to earlier in another, earlier Lukan narrative (Luke 4:26). This deed echoed again in ancient writ as Elijah’s successor Elisha was driven by God through Israel. However, major differences arise between today’s lesson, and the recorded raisings by both Old Testament prophets. Neither man did the actual healing! God’s attention to the plight was requested by both persons during those occurrences. We first read in the story of Elijah’s ministry…

 “And he cried to the Lord, ‘O Lord my God, hast thou brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son?’ 
 Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried to the Lord, ‘O Lord my God, let this child's soul come into him again.’ 
  And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived.”  (1 Kings 17:17-24)

Additionally, in the Second Book of Kings we find Elisha’s ministry followed this pattern. In echo of the former, we read…

 “When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. So he went in and shut the door upon the two of them, and prayed to the Lord. 
 Then he went up and lay upon the child, putting his mouth upon his mouth, his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands; and as he stretched himself upon him, the flesh of the child became warm. 
 Then he got up again, and walked once to and fro in the house, and went up, and stretched himself upon him; the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes.”  (2 Kings 4:32-34)

 As persons now living in a medically-modern technological age, those having mastered CPR classes may get caught up by the descriptive unfolding of both prophetic accounts. We may relate that the scenes well could describe such resuscitations, which may have been understood and proclaimed by the ancients as miraculous resurrection events. While this argument may hold true for some, in that day the event was surely miraculous in that the prophet’s request was honored. The subject person’s life continued in this world. The events were thus viewed indeed as miraculous, and I offer that many a parent today would claim such a miracle even for a modern day resuscitation of their beloved child.
 However, we must note with importance that Jesus raised the dead man who had been prepared for burial and was being carried from the city. As well, it was reported that he did so without first praying to God for empowerment. Thus Jesus raising the man heralded a new, profound era in which he demonstrated that he in himself possessed the divine power of resurrection.
 Here was no CPR measure, as might be claimed by modern doubters. Jesus simply touched the unclean bed and raised the man without touching his body. Only be the power of the creative Word, Jesus commanded life to return from chaos and corruption.., something God has done from the very beginnings of creation. We note that other gospel records tell of healings done in similar fashion by Jesus. Notably, we cite the raising of Jarius’ daughter (Mark 5:21-43), and also the raising of Lazarus, who had been dead for an extended time. (John 11:1-44)

Why This Account?
Because of the evidence that this story comes only from Luke, we may rightly ask, “What did the story mean to the people of Luke’s communities? We may speculate and also ask the symbolic value of such narrative for them? Given the pressure placed upon the new Christian factions within the Jewish communities of the late first century, we may wonder whether the man represents a dead faith that had fallen upon the dispersed people of Israel. It may have been charged by many Christians that the faith of the mothering synagogues in place for centuries had waned, and the Jews... though keeping the rituals, catered to the whims of the surrounding Roman society as they morosely waited for the Messiah. It seems that they had replaced enduring faith with expedient compromise. Expressed faith in the God of the Jews was in peril! Notice that the man’s father was dead, which could have described the synagogue’s communal relationship with our Creator. For Luke, could this also have expressed the distance that the gospel hearers felt from God, because of the persecutions that had already begun.
 You see, as the root of their collective Jewish identity the participants of the synagogue saw either liturgical traditions being a law unto itself; or they noted the rise of unorthodox Christian progressive forms of worship as a threat. The synagogue may have seemed like a widow without hope.
 However, Jesus tells the grieving widow not to weep. Today's narrative therefore relates to us that our Lord comforted those who were waiting for deliverance. He arrived on the scene and demonstrated his power to resurrect not only a physical human body, but the faith body of the infant church... whether it was still attached to its mothering synagogue community or not. This being true, by the power of God in given Christ and nurtured by the Spirit, we today who experience the tidal wave of changing worship laced with questionable entertainment and heretical theology expressions... are also informed that the orthodox and traditional faith shall surely endure.
 The telling seems to report that Jesus’ prophetic resurrection power shall indeed spread across the world. It is this final aim that we need to carry with us today from the quill of this gospel writer. We need center on the miracle of Resurrection… that by the Word the man was raised. We see then that the cure exists in that the good news proclaimed, and still is by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is therefore the everlasting prophet! It is our Lord who was then, and yet still is the eternal Prophet, our great High Priest and the King of all Creation. In keeping to the voice of orthodox, traditional faith expression, those around us shall learn that Jesus was raised and has ascended, and yet sends his Spirit to breath life into his church.




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