The Gospel for June 5th, 2016: “Raising of the Widow’s Son”
As I have mentioned on many occasions, my spiritual journey has led me to read extensively books, blogs, and articles by Bishop Robert Barron of the Word on Fire Ministries. One of the insights from that reading is a growing awareness of the continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament. While I don’t think this awareness is necessary to understand and benefit from reading the Gospels, it adds an undeniable weight to every parable, healing, teaching, and experience that is rendered from Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection in the four books of Jesus’s life.
The gospel story of the “Raising of the Widow’s Son” gives me a good opportunity to demonstrate this. In the past I would have read this as evidence for Jesus’s divinity and would have found that mildly compelling. I say mildly compelling because if Jesus is God, it is not surprising he would be able to perform miracles, even raising one from the dead. Since I have read the New Testament with the belief that Jesus is God, this affirms what I already believe. But if the evidence of yet another miracle is all I see, it is easy to view Jesus distantly, without the urgency of mission. It is easy to take a complacent stance that allows for an attitude of spiritual procrastination.
However, this would not have been the stance of those who were aware of or witness to His ministry at this time. The Jews had many expectations learned from their religious tradition, including a return of the prophet Elijah preceding the coming of a Messiah, the Son of Man.
This expectation would have raised implications from Jesus’s ministries that go beyond a sense of amazement and mystery at the wonders they observe and hear about. Consider the reaction of the witnesses as Jesus raised the dead boy to life: “Fear seized them all, and they glorified God exclaiming, ‘A great prophet has arisen in our midst’ and ‘God has visited his people’” (16). I didn’t know that others had raised the dead through God before Jesus. Both Elijah (1 Kings 17) and Elisha (2 Kings 4) raised the dead. So Jesus’s miracle with the widow’s son would immediately mark Him as a new prophet, perhaps the return of Elijah. Since prophets carry the word of God, this in itself is startling. However, the possibility that Jesus is Elijah would mean that the coming of the Messiah is near. This is the long awaited salvation of God’s people. The need to repent from sin would be greater then than at any other moment in their lives; hence, they react with both fear and glory-filled praise. This moment is not to be missed or taken lightly.
But Jesus in not Elijah; He is the Messiah. In fact, Elijah has returned in the person of John-the-Baptist who is hearing stories of Jesus’s ministry and is reading the signs of the Old Testament prophecy. Therefore, Luke 7 continues with John sending messengers to Jesus with the question, “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?” (19). While Jesus replies to John in ambiguous language–probably to delay his persecution at the hands of the Sanhedrin for proclaiming to be God—he is plainer in His comments to those in the crowd who were present at the visit of John’s messengers. For them Jesus identifies John as “the one about whom scripture says: ‘Behold I am sending my messenger ahead of you, he will prepare your way before you’” (27). The implication is John is the messenger and prophet, not Jesus. He slips in his true identity as he notes how the scribes and Pharisees are missing the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy because they are blinded by their concern for the law. In response to John-the-Baptist’s fasting, they see not a prophet, but one “possessed by a demon” (33). In response to Jesus’s lack of fasting, they call Him “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (34). In answering that charge, Jesus refers to Himself and His behavior with, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking…” (34). In the minds of first century Jews the Son of Man would be the Messiah.
The point of this revelation is salvation is at hand. The Messiah has come. The wait is over. And if the wait is over, so then is putting off repentance. What this means for twenty-first century Christians is the same thing. The savior is already here. Therefore, we delay our salvation, perhaps put it at risk with every day that is not lived is service of Jesus’s mission to gather all His people to Him. For most of us this is not a retreat from the world, like a monk who chooses a contemplative life to serve Jesus. Instead, it means we bring Jesus to the world daily. And in that mission, we must be willing to bring God’s unselfish love to others as God places them in our paths, not at our own choosing. So the urgency to let go of our own selfish motives and plans is upon us. This is what it means to reject Satan and all his empty promises. We must choose salvation to be at peace in life and peace in death.
I close with one final point about this passage. Jesus raising others from the dead, and then His own resurrection at the hands of God the Father is more than just evidence for His divinity; it is His salvation plan for us. Complete acceptance of a life dedicated to the good of others will be our victory over death, pain, and suffering. Yes, we must endure them in this life as Jesus and the saints have before us, but in that endurance lies the peace and happiness we seek. The significance of that insight is radically life-changing. It is the victory of life over death.