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Bible Reflections View Comments

Faith in the Face of Death
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Monday, June 10, 2013
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Death is the greatest divide we know. Movies, myths, great works of literature, often play with the idea that there is someone who can cross that divide, who can bring back a loved one who has died. We know intuitively that the natural order of things is disturbed any time a child dies before his or her parents. Even in times and places where infant mortality is much higher than in our own society, the loss of a child is especially tragic. We see so much unfulfilled potential. We see life and love cut short far too soon.

The scene Luke sets in our Gospel reading today naturally tugs at us. We might find ourselves asking why God doesn’t do this more often, doesn’t intervene when disaster or tragedy strikes and children are taken far too soon from their parents. Like Mary and Martha, in John’s account of the death of Lazarus, we cry out, “Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died.” As Christians, we believe that Christ has conquered death once and for all. This doesn’t always comfort us in the immediate aftermath of a very real and present human loss.

Today’s Gospel raises new questions in our minds because it’s not so familiar to us as some of the other miracles in the Gospels. We know the parables, the nature miracles, the healings. But only two or three times do we hear of Jesus raising someone from the dead.

In this particular story, Jesus doesn’t wait to be asked. He sees the funeral procession, he’s moved with pity, and he restores the man to his mother. Did Jesus have a particular empathy with this widow because he knew that one day his own widowed mother would lose her only son? The Gospel writer doesn’t tell us. We so know that when he was dying on the cross, he took special care to make sure that the beloved disciple would care for Mary.

The first reading from the Book of Kings gives us some clues about how to interpret this story. We hear another chapter from the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. He came to stay with her during a drought. He found her ready to give up her own life and that of her son, and through his prayers and guidance, they all find the grace and providence to go on. She accepts his God as her own. Now her son grows sick and then stops breathing. She sees this as a judgment from God and accuses Elijah of bringing this fate upon her. Her faith is tested once gain by this crisis.

We like to think that our own faith is stronger than this. We like to believe during the good times that nothing can shake our belief in the goodness of God. But we’ve all known times when tragedy and losss can make us question a foundation that once seemed so solid and now appears to be crumbling.

Elijah calls upon God to restore the child to life. It is one of the ways that Elijah is recognized as a great prophet, a man of God. In the same way the people who witness Jesus raising the son of the widow of Nain immediately proclaim him to be a prophet and a man of God.

In a few weeks we will hear Jesus is ask his followers, “Who do you say that I am?’ But the question of his identity won’t be settled definitively for them until his death and resurrection. And for us, we will continue to ask and answer these questions through all the ups and downs of our own life.


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Martha: Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus were evidently close friends of Jesus. He came to their home simply as a welcomed guest, rather than as one celebrating the conversion of a sinner like Zacchaeus or one unceremoniously received by a suspicious Pharisee. The sisters feel free to call on Jesus at their brother’s death, even though a return to Judea at that time seems almost certain death. 
<p>No doubt Martha was an active sort of person. On one occasion (see Luke 10:38-42) she prepares the meal for Jesus and possibly his fellow guests and forthrightly states the obvious: All hands should pitch in to help with the dinner. </p><p>Yet, as biblical scholar Father John McKenzie points out, she need not be rated as an “unrecollected activist.” The evangelist is emphasizing what our Lord said on several occasions about the primacy of the spiritual: “...[D]o not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear…. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:25b, 33a); “One does not live by bread alone” (Luke 4:4b); “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” (Matthew 5:6a). </p><p>Martha’s great glory is her simple and strong statement of faith in Jesus after her brother’s death. “Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world’” (John 11:25-27).</p> American Catholic Blog One of the difficulties we may have when our lives become unmanageable is that we find dealing with other people to be difficult and we may even struggle to maintain a relationship with God. Caring people especially can find themselves carrying unnecessary crosses as they become lost in the maze of trying to meet everyone’s crazy expectations—including their own!

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