God’s compassion shown in many ways

  • May 30, 2013

10th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) June 9 (1 Kings 17:17-21, 22-24; Psalm 30; Galatians 1:11-19; Luke 7:11-17)

Pain, suffering and death definitely challenge human endurance and put faith to the test. Most prayers plead for relief from pain, suffering or misfortune. For some, the experience leads to a deepening of faith and trust in God. For many others who feel that their prayers were unanswered, cynicism and a loss of faith in a benevolent higher power may be the unhappy result.

Suffering and death remain constant reminders of human frailty and the fleeting moments we have on Earth. People ask a legitimate question: if the prophets and Jesus healed people as the Bible reports, what about us? Is our pain any less? The biblical healing accounts seem like tiny dots on a vast sea of human suffering. This tension was illustrated poignantly in the story of Elijah and the widow’s dead son. The widow had been very kind to the prophet at great risk to her well-being by giving Elijah food and shelter. When her son died suddenly, she was crushed, thinking that it was divine punishment for her sins at the hands of God’s prophet. Even Elijah raged against God a bit, asking why God brought calamity on the widow. He had the courage and faith to demand three times that God restore the child’s life — and it happened! The overjoyed mother professed faith in Elijah’s prophetic status and the Word of God that he spoke — and that is really the point of the story. Death was a constant shadowy companion in the ancient world, especially for children. Life was restored to this particular child because of his mother’s kindness to the prophet of God and to plant the seeds of faith in her land. There was an overriding reason for the restoration of life in this case — a reason that transcends the feelings and emotions of those involved. Prayer for others is very important but the prayers are not always answered in the ways that we want or expect. Some things can be changed while others must be accepted — we pray for the grace to know the difference.

Paul’s angry letter to the Galatians had nothing to do with prayer and healing. Paul was defending the Gospel message that he preached against those who were undermining his efforts and taking the path back to the old ways. At least that was Paul’s view — his opponents felt just as passionately about their point of view. Paul claimed to have a “hotline” to God — his Gospel was untouched by human hands. The account of Paul’s life in the Acts of the Apostles directly contradicted this claim, as well as his denial of conferring with the Jerusalem church. Perhaps this serves as a reminder not to allow ourselves to be kidnapped by our own emotions and rhetoric. We can never be sure that we are totally right or that the other party is totally wrong. Openness, humility and discernment are essential tools in our quest for truth.

The Elijah-Elisha stories from the Old Testament formed part of the template for the New Testament writers in their portrayals of Jesus. Jesus faced a similar situation: a bereaved mother preparing to bury her only son. Not only had she lost her son, but as a widow she would be vulnerable and without means. Unlike the Elijah story, Jesus did not beseech God to restore life to the dead man but ordered him by means of His own authority and spiritual power to rise from the funeral pallet. The dead man sat up and began to speak before being restored to his mother. The crowd’s reaction was one of shock and awe. They recognized and acclaimed Jesus as a great prophet arisen among them. More importantly, as they continued to glorify God they recognized that God was pouring out grace and favour on the people.

The widow’s son — we don’t even know his name — drew his importance from his role in God’s plan that was unfolding in the life of Jesus. We cannot expect that God is going to heal every pain, dissolve every difficulty or remove death from those dear to us. God’s compassion and mercy are always present and will be manifested in countless ways. After all, healing and new life come in many different forms.

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