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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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Peter and Paul: 
		<strong>Peter (d. 64?)</strong>. St. Mark ends the first half of his Gospel with a triumphant climax. He has recorded doubt, misunderstanding and the opposition of many to Jesus. Now Peter makes his great confession of faith: "You are the Messiah" (Mark 8:29b). It was one of the many glorious moments in Peter's life, beginning with the day he was called from his nets along the Sea of Galilee to become a fisher of men for Jesus. 
<p>The New Testament clearly shows Peter as the leader of the apostles, chosen by Jesus to have a special relationship with him. With James and John he was privileged to witness the Transfiguration, the raising of a dead child to life and the agony in Gethsemane. His mother-in-law was cured by Jesus. He was sent with John to prepare for the last Passover before Jesus' death. His name is first on every list of apostles. </p><p>And to Peter only did Jesus say, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:17b-19). </p><p>But the Gospels prove their own trustworthiness by the unflattering details they include about Peter. He clearly had no public relations person. It is a great comfort for ordinary mortals to know that Peter also has his human weakness, even in the presence of Jesus. </p><p>He generously gave up all things, yet he can ask in childish self-regard, "What are we going to get for all this?" (see Matthew 19:27). He receives the full force of Christ's anger when he objects to the idea of a suffering Messiah: "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do" (Matthew 16:23b). </p><p>Peter is willing to accept Jesus' doctrine of forgiveness, but suggests a limit of seven times. He walks on the water in faith, but sinks in doubt. He refuses to let Jesus wash his feet, then wants his whole body cleansed. He swears at the Last Supper that he will never deny Jesus, and then swears to a servant maid that he has never known the man. He loyally resists the first attempt to arrest Jesus by cutting off Malchus's ear, but in the end he runs away with the others. In the depth of his sorrow, Jesus looks on him and forgives him, and he goes out and sheds bitter tears. The Risen Jesus told Peter to feed his lambs and his sheep (John 21:15-17). </p><p><strong>Paul (d. 64?)</strong>. If the most well-known preacher today suddenly began preaching that the United States should adopt Marxism and not rely on the Constitution, the angry reaction would help us understand Paul's life when he started preaching that Christ alone can save us. He had been the most Pharisaic of Pharisees, the most legalistic of Mosaic lawyers. Now he suddenly appears to other Jews as a heretical welcomer of Gentiles, a traitor and apostate. </p><p>Paul's central conviction was simple and absolute: Only God can save humanity. No human effort—even the most scrupulous observance of law—can create a human good which we can bring to God as reparation for sin and payment for grace. To be saved from itself, from sin, from the devil and from death, humanity must open itself completely to the saving power of Jesus. </p><p>Paul never lost his love for his Jewish family, though he carried on a lifelong debate with them about the uselessness of the Law without Christ. He reminded the Gentiles that they were grafted on the parent stock of the Jews, who were still God's chosen people, the children of the promise. </p><p>In light of his preaching and teaching skills, Paul's name has surfaced (among others) as a possible patron of the Internet.</p> American Catholic Blog The way of the cross is unavoidably uphill. Christians don’t get to carry their cross downhill. Suffering has always been inextricably linked with Christianity, but those who carry their cross willingly in these times can serve as an example and inspiration to all of us.

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