1 Kgs 17.17 to 24; Ps 30; Gal 1.11 to 19; Lk 7.11 to 17
Gn 3.1 to 20; Ps 129; Rm 5.18 to 21; Mt 1,20b-24b
Third Sunday after Pentecost
Death is a sleep from which Christ’s compassion awakens.
“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (Jn 11:11) Jesus said these words to his disciples expressing with the metaphor of sleep the point of view of God on physical death. God sees it just as a sleep, from which we can be awaken. The Son of God has shown absolute power against this kind of death.
You can see it in the Gospel of St. Mark (5.35 to 43) that tells the resurrection of a young twelve years old girl. Of her the Messiah said “She is not dead, but asleep” (Mk 5:39), and those present mocked him for this humanly absurd phrase. With the third resurrection, the one of the son of the widow of Nain proposed in today’s Gospel (Lk 7.11 to 17), Christ teaches not only that the death of the body is a sleep, but also that God can awaken us from this sleep at any humanly unexpected time.
In all the three “cases”, one sees that the Ownership over death did not prevent Jesus to prove genuine compassion for the pain of the physical separation. “The heart of the Savior is divine-human: in Christ, God and man have perfectly met without separation and without confusion” (Benedict XVI). He is the incarnation of the God who is love, mercy of the God who is Life. “The mercy of Jesus is not just a feeling, it is a force that gives life and resurrects! Even today’s Gospel says it in the episode of the widow of Nain “(Pope Francis). For this reason Pope Francis teaches that “compassion is the love of God for man. It is mercy, the attitude of God in touch with the human misery, with our poverty, our pain, our anguish. The biblical term compassion recalls the maternal womb; every mother, in fact, reacts in a particular way in front of her children’s pain.” The result of this merciful compassion is Life. For this reason Jesus said to the widow mother “Do not cry!”, then called the dead boy and woke him up as from sleep (cf. Lk 7: 13-15).
What strikes me in this Sunday’s Gospel is not so much the miracle of the resurrection of a dead as the gesture of profound humanity that Jesus performs approaching compassion the widow mourning her dead son with true and sincere compassion. Jesus is unique in this compassion (com – passion = a suffering that is suffering with, feeling the same pain) that moves him to do what is in his power.
We do not have this power to resurrect the dead, only God can do that, but we can have the same ability of Jesus to show compassion and not to remain blind in the front of the poverty and suffering of those we meet on our way. It is enough that through small and ordinary gestures we make compassionately works of mercy. With these works we can make our humanity “miraculous”, making it the icon (picture) of Christ, true God and true man.
If we do not act like Christ we will never know love. Jesus, the Lord of life, is not only to be admired, it is to be imitated.
If we thought, like some, that keeping a clean heart, worthy of God, means not to meddle it and not to contaminate it with human affection, the logical consequence would be to make us insensitive to the pain of others. We would then be capable only of an official charity, dry and soulless, but not of the true love of Christ, which is affection and human warmth.
Words that amaze
Jesus was shocking when he went to eat with sinners, stayed with children and talked to women and with those who were considered far from God. Jesus amazes us even in this crying with a poor widow who has lost also her only son. He surprises also because he “dares” to say to this woman: “Do not cry.” The cry of the widow was caused by grief over the loss of her son and for her at that moment the pain was opposed to hope. Yet Christ, even before resurrecting her son, told her: “Do not cry.” Within living memory and in the history of mankind there has been no one who has expressed his emotion, his compassionate tenderness toward a person alone, because a widow, and abandoned because of the death of her one and only son, telling her these words of consolation “Woman, do not cry.” Words that not only wipe away tears, but stop them because pronounced by him who is Life and gives life.
Four words from the One who alone could pronounce them in truth. From the One who alone could really give hope to the seemingly hopeless pain, the pain of those who do not expect anything good from life. Moreover, do not forget that the compassion of Christ is free, not only because this widowed mother didn’t asked anything, but because she does not ask anything for the simple reason that no human person can merit a miracle.
Thanks to this free intervention of the Messiah the funeral procession joins in with the joyful one accompanying Christ: the two processions come together in a single procession, as in a river of water of life. The tributary that was destined to die in a pond, flows into a river of living water that leads to the mouth of Life.
To give life Christ conquers death, so that those who love each other remain neighbors in His compassionate love.
He is the Life dressed in Mercy.
He is the Life that unconditionally gives himself to us so that we may have life, and have it abundantly.
He is the Life that no grave can hold.
He is the Life that announces the Truth that liberates even from death.
He is the Life that opens before us infinite horizons. Today he repeats to us what he said to the young man who had died: “Get up.”
“Get up“, the words that come today to our heart are the same one that God used to create man and that God often repeated in the Bible not only to cure but also to call to Him, to live in communion with him, because the life that He gives is a vocation of communion with Him and with His brothers and sisters in humanity.
To the consecrated Virgin in the world Jesus says “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come soon. My dove, hiding in the clefts of the rock, in the coverts of the cliff, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet and your face is lovely. “The consecrated virgin can always respond with the Song of Songs ”My beloved is mine and I am his; set me like a seal on your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is strong as Death. The flash of it is a flash of fire, a flame of Yahweh himself. Love no flood can quench, no torrents drown. Were a man to offer all his family wealth to buy love, contempt is all that he would gain. “(Song of Songs 2, 8-10.14.16a; 8, 6-7A).
To Christ, the Bridegroom who calls inviting them to get up, the consecrated virgins raise with faith, are quick with the offer and open their hearts by full adhesion and total abandonment.
The loving initiative of Christ requires the free response of those called. A positive response which always presumes acceptance of and identification with the plan that God has for each of them (but this is also true for each of us). The response of the consecrated virgins in the world testifies that the Lord’s loving initiative must be upheld in a spousal and exclusive attitude, and it is also an offering of thanksgiving to God and a total cooperation to the plan of salvation that He carries out in history.
Saint Augustin of Hyppo (354 – 430)
Sermon 98, 1-3
PL 38, 591-592.
On the words of the gospel, Lk 7,2 etc.; On the three dead persons whom the Lord raised.
- The miracles of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ make indeed an impression on all who hear of, and believe them; but on different men in different ways. For some amazed at His miracles done on the bodies of men, have no knowledge to discern the greater; whereas some admire the more ample fulfilment in the souls of men at the present time of those things which they hear of as having been wrought on their bodies. The Lord Himself saith, “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom He will.”1 Not of course that the Son “quickeneth” some, the Father others; but the Father and the Son “quicken” the same; for the Father doeth all things by the Son. Let no one then who is a Christian doubt, that even at the present time the dead are raised. Now all men have eyes, wherewith they can see the dead rise again in such sort, as the son of that widow rose, of whom we have just read out of the Gospel;2 but those eyes wherewith men see the dead in heart rise again, all men have not, save those who have risen already in heart themselves. It is a greater miracle to raise again one who is to live for ever, than to raise one who must die again.
- The widowed mother rejoiced at the raising again of that young man; of men raised again in spirit day by day does Mother Church rejoice. He indeed was dead in the body but they in soul His visible death was bewailed visibly; their death invisible was neither enquired into nor perceived. He sought them out who had known them to be dead; He Alone knew them to be dead, who was able to make them alive. For if the Lord had not come to raise the dead, the Apostle would not have said, “Rise, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”3 You hear of one asleep in the words, “Rise, thou that sleepest;” but understand it of one dead when you hear, “And arise from the dead.” Thus they who are even dead in the body4 are often said to be asleep. And certainly they all are but asleep, in respect of Him who is able to awaken them. For in respect of thee, a dead man is dead indeed, seeing he will not awake, beat or prick or tear him as thou wilt. But in respect of Christ, he was but asleep to whom it was said, “Arise,”5 and he arose forthwith. No one can as easily awaken another in bed, as Christ can in the tomb.
- Now we find that three dead persons were raised by the Lord “visibly,” thousands “invisibly.” Nay, who knows even how many dead He raised visibly? For all the things that He did are not written. John tells us this, “Many other things Jesus did, the which if they should be written, I suppose that the whole world could not contain the books.”6 So then there were without doubt many others raised: but it is not without a meaning that the three are expressly recorded. For our Lord Jesus Christ would that those things which He did on the body should be also spiritually understood. For He did not merely do miracles for the miracles’ sake; but in order that the things which He did should inspire wonder in those who saw them, and convey truth to them who understand. As he who sees letters in an excellently written manuscript, and knows not how to read, praises indeed the transcriber’s7 hand, and admires the beauty of the characters;8 but what those characters mean or signify he does not know; and by the sight of his eyes he is a praiser of the work, but in his mind has no comprehension of it; whereas another man both praises the work, and is capable of understanding it; such an one, I mean, who is not only able to see what is common to all, but who can read also; which he who has never learned cannot. So they who saw Christ’s miracles, and understood not what they meant, and what they in a manner conveyed to those who had understanding, wondered only at the miracles themselves; whereas others both wondered at the miracles, and attained to the meaning of them. Such ought we to be in the school of Christ. For he who says that Christ only worked miracles, for the miracles’ sake, may say too that He was ignorant that it was not the thee for fruit, when He sought figs upon the figtree.9 For it was not the time for that fruit, as the Evangelist testifies; and yet being hungry He sought for fruit upon the tree. Did not Christ know, what any peasant knew? What the dresser of the tree knew, did not the tree’s Creator know? So then when being hungry He sought fruit on the tree, He signified that He was hungry, and seeking after something else than this; and He found that tree without fruit, but full of leaves, and He cursed it, and it withered away. What had the tree done in not bearing fruit? What fault of the tree was its fruitlessness? No; but there are those who through their own will are not able to yield fruit. Andbarrenness is “their” fault, whose fruitfulness is their will. The Jews then who had the words of the Law, and had not the deeds, were full of leaves, and bare no fruit. This have I said to persuade you, that our Lord Jesus Christ performed miracles with this view, that by those miracles He might signify something further, that besides that they were wonderful and great, and divine in themselves, we might learn also something from them.
- Let us then see what He would have us learn in those three dead persons whom He raised. He raised again the dead daughter of the ruler of the synagogue, for whom when she was sick petition was made to Him, that He would deliver her from her sickness. And as He is going, it is announced that she is dead; and as though He would now be only wearying Himself in vain, word was brought to her father, “Thy daughter is dead, why weariest thou the Master any further?”10 But He went on, and said to the father of the damsel, “Be not afraid, only believe.”11 He comes to the house, and finds the customary funeral obsequies already prepared, and He says to them, “Weep not, for the damsel is not dead, but sleepeth.”12 He spake the truth; she was asleep; asleep, that is, in respect of Him, by whom she could be awakened. So awakening her, He restored her alive to her parents. So again He awakened that young man, the widow’s son,13 by whose case I have been now reminded to speak with you, Beloved, on this subject, as He Himself shall vouchsafe to give me power. Ye have just heard how he was awakened. The Lord “came nigh to the city; and behold there was a dead man being carried out” already beyond the gate. Moved with compassion, for that the mother, a widow and bereaved of her only son, was weeping, He did what ye have heard, saying, “Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. He that was dead arose, and began to speak, and He restored him to his mother.”14 He awakened Lazarus likewise from the tomb. And in that case when the disciples with whom He was speaking knew that he was sick, He said (now “Jesus loved him”), “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth.” They thinking of the sick man’s healthful sleep; say, “Lord, if he sleep he is well.” “Then said Jesus,” speaking now more plainly, I tell you, “our friend Lazarus is dead.”15 And in both He said the truth; “He is dead in respect of you, he is asleep in respect of Me.”
- These three kinds of dead persons, are three kinds of sinners whom even at this day Christ doth raise. For that dead daughter of the ruler of the synagogue was within in the house, she had not yet been carried out from the secresy of its walls into public view. There within was she raised, and restored alive to her parents. But the second was not now indeed in the house, but still not yet in the tomb, he had been carried out of the walls, but not committed to the ground. He who raised the dead maiden who was not yet carried out, raised this dead man who was now carried out, but not yet buried. There remained a third case, that He should raise one who was also buried; and this He did in Lazarus. There are then those who have sin inwardly in the heart, but have it not yet in overt act. A man, for instance, is disturbed by any lust. For the Lord Himself saith, “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”16 He has not yet in body approached her, but in heart he has consented; he has one dead within, he has not yet carried him out. And as it often happens, as we know, as men daily experience in themselves, when they hear the word of God, as it were the Lord saying, “Arise;” the consent unto sin is condemned, they breathe again unto saving health and righteousness. The dead man in the house arises, the heart revives in the secret of the thoughts. This resurrection of a dead soul takes place within, in the retirement of the conscience, as it were within the walls of the house. Others after consent proceed to overt act, carrying out the dead as it were, that that which was concealed in secret, may appear in public. Are these now, who have advanced to the outward act, past hope? Was it not said to the young man in the Gospel also, “I say unto thee, Arise”? Was he not also restored to his mother? So then he too who has committed the open act, if haply admonished and aroused by the word of truth, he rise again at the Voice of Christ, is restored alive. Go so far he could, perish for ever he could not. But they who by doing what is evil, involve themselves even in evil habit, so that this very habit of evil suffers them not to see that it is evil, become defenders of their evil deeds; are angry when they are found fault with; to such a degree, that the men of Sodom of old said to the righteous man who reproved their abominable design, “Thou art come to sojourn, not to give laws.”17 So powerful in that place was the habit of abominable filthiness, that profligacy now passed for righteousness, and the hinderer of it was found fault with rather than the doer. Such as these pressed down by a malignant habit, are as it were buried. Yea, what shall I say, Brethren? In such sort buried, as was said of Lazarus, “By this time he stinketh.”18 That heap placed upon the grave, is this stubborn force of habit, whereby the soul is pressed down, and is not suffered either to rise, or breathe again.
- Now it was said,” He hath been dead four days.”19 So in truth the soul arrives at that habit, of which I am speaking by a kind of four-fold progress. For there is first the provocation as it were of pleasure in the heart, secondly consent, thirdly the overt act, fourthly the habit. For there are those who so entirely throw off things unlawful from their thoughts, as not even to feel any pleasure in them. There are those who do feel the pleasure, and do not consent to them; death is not yet perfected, but in a certain sort begun. To the feeling of pleasure is added consent; now at once is that condemnation incurred. After the consent, progress is made unto the open act; the act changes into a habit; and a sort of desperate condition is produced, so as that it may be said, “He hath been dead four days, by this time he stinketh.” Therefore, the Lord came, to whom of course all things were easy; yet He found in that case as it were a kind of difficulty. He “groaned “20 in the spirit, He showed that there is need of much and loud remonstrance to raise up those who have grown hard by habit. Yet at the voice of the Lord’s cry, the bands of necessity were burst asunder. The powers of hell trembled, and Lazarus is restored alive. For the Lord delivers even from evil habits those who “have been dead four days;” for this man in the Gospel, “who had been dead four days,” was asleep only in respect of Christ whose will it was to raise him again. But what said He? Observe the manner of his arising again. He came forth from the tomb alive, but he could not walk. And the Lord said to the disciples; “Loose him, and let him go.”21 “He” raised him from death, “they” loosed him from his bonds. Observe how there is something which appertaineth to the special Majesty of God who raiseth up. A man involved in an evil habit is rebuked by the word of truth. How many are rebuked, and give no ear! Who is it then who deals within with him who does give ear? Who breathes life into him within? Who is it who drives away the unseen death, gives the life unseen? Afterrebukes, after remonstrances, are not men left alone to their own thoughts, do they not begin to turn over in their minds how evil a life they are living, with how very bad a habit they are weighed down? Then displeased with themselves, they determine to change their life. Such have risen again; they to whom what they have been is displeasing have revived: but though reviving, they are not able to walk. These are the bands of their guilt. Need then there is, that whoso has returned to life should be loosed, and let go. This office hath He given to the disciples to whom He said, “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven also.”22
- Let us then, dearly Beloved, in such wise hear these things, that they who are alive may live; they who are dead may live again. Whether it be that as yet the sin has been conceived in the heart, and not come forth into open act; let the thought be repented of, and corrected, let the dead within the house of conscience arise. Or whether he has actually committed what he thought of; let not even thus his case be despaired of. The dead within has not arisen, let him arise when “he is carried out.” Let him repent him of his deed, let him at once return to life; let him not go to the depth of the grave, let him not receive the load of habit upon him. But peradventure I am now speaking to one who is already pressed down by this hard stone of his own habit, who is already laden with the weight of custom, who “has been in the grave four days already, and who stinketh.” Yet let not even him despair; he is dead in the depth below, but Christ is exalted on high. He knows how by His cry to burst asunder the burdens of earth, He knows how to restore life within by Himself, and to deliver him to the disciples to be loosed. Let even such as these repent. For when Lazarus had been raised again after the four days, no foul smell remained in him when he was alive. So then let them who are alive, still live; and let them who are dead, whosoever they be, in which kind soever of these three deaths they find themselves, see to it that they rise again at once with all speed.
1 (Jn 5,21
2 (Lc 7,12
3 (Ep 5,14
5 (Lc 7,14
6 (Jn 21,25
9 Vid. Serm. 39,(lxxxix. Ben).. Mark xi. 13).
10 (Mc 5,35
11 (Mc 5,36
12 (Mc 5,39
13 (Lc 7,12
14 (Lc 7,14-15.
15 (Jn 11,11 etc.
16 (Mt 5,28
17 (Gn 19,9).
18 (Jn 11,39
19 (Jn 11,39
20 (Jn 11,38
21 (Jn 11,44
22 Mt 18,18).