God is near to all of us

  • May 26, 2016

10th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) June 5 (1 Kings 17:17-21a, 22-24; Psalm 30; Galatians 1:11-19; Luke 7:11-17)

Should we ever reproach God for human suffering? People have usually been reluctant to do so, and they spend a lot of effort try to vindicate God. 

Elijah was not at all bashful or afraid. When the son of the widow with whom he was staying appeared to be dead or at least dying, Elijah raised his voice to the heavens. With a rhetorical question that was more an accusation, he asked if God had brought calamity on the widow by “killing” her son.

We would likely question the question being phrased in such stark terms — God does not kill anyone, especially those who are innocent. But Elijah cried out to God three times to allow life to come back into the boy. The text tells us that God “listened” to the voice of Elijah, and restored life to the widow’s son. 

Was the boy dead in the first place? The text merely states that he had a fever so severe that there was no breath left in him. This could well have been unconsciousness and slowed vital signs — quite common. God ‘listened’ to Elijah — does this mean that Elijah talked God out of killing the boy and convinced him to change his mind? 

These are legitimate questions, but we have to remember the age in which this story was written, as well as the worldview and understanding of the author. In the context of the sacred story, however, these questions fade in importance. It was not intended to give a clinical description of the event. Its purpose was to illustrate Elijah’s closeness and familiarity of the prophet with God. 

This is most evident first of all by his boldness in challenging God and then the power of his words to touch the heart of God. Elijah walked closely with God, and the divine teachings that came from his mouth were recognized as authentic and true. The authenticity of a prophet or person speaking of God is closely linked with what their proclamation accomplishes in the lives of those around them. 

Paul was a man at war with himself, which is a very common human affliction. Filled with religious zeal, he persecuted the early Christian movement fiercely and without mercy. Like so many religious zealots then and now, he allowed his religious zeal to override his sense of justice, mercy and compassion. But there was something else within him — a divine calling and God’s grace. 

Perhaps his dim awareness of this provoked even more resistance on his part. Fanaticism and intolerance are often reactions of fear when people are insecure in our faith or when they suspect that the other person may be right. After his encounter with the risen Lord, Paul’s life was changed forever. He was then an equally zealous Apostle of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. 

God’s truth rested in his mind and heart just as it did with Elijah. We can also resist God’s intentions or calling for us, but we will have little inner peace until we stop running and begin the path to which God has called us. 

Luke’s account of Jesus raising the son of the widow in Nain is a mirror of the first reading concerning Elijah. Once again, we might have questions. Many children die each day, why was God’s mercy only shown to this one individual? How did Jesus restore the young man’s life? 

They will have to remain unanswered for now. This was not intended to be a journalistic report — Luke’s overall story is the main focus. The point of the story was the proclamation by the crowd of Jesus as a great prophet and the joyful recognition of the merciful grace shown by God. 

It was very clear that through this incident, many believed that God was in their midst in a special way — and they were correct. In that small corner of the empire, in an even smaller part of the larger world, God’s grace, compassion and kindness shone in a way that could not be denied or explained away, perhaps even softening the hearts of the skeptics and cynics. 

That is what our world needs — a sense of God’s nearness and care. When it is manifested, as it often is, an open heart and mind is necessary. There is only one proper response — gratitude and joy. 

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