June 5, 2016 - 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Saint Martin de Tours Catholic Church
The son of the widow of Zarephath stops breathing. The boy dies. Elijah, the prophet of God, did not kill the boy. The young man from Nain, the son of a widow dies. Jesus did not kill the young man.
These deaths are tragic, heartbreaking. Anytime someone so young dies we are stunned, speechless. But notice, if you will, it is not God nor the prophet Elijah who takes the life of the boy. And it is not Jesus who causes the death of the young man.
But so often when someone young dies, in an attempt to cope with the pain and grief, in an attempt to be sensitive to the family, we say things like, “Oh, God took him home. God needed another angel in heaven.”
Well folks, I’m here to tell you, that’s sort of bad theology. I realize that it’s just an attempt to wrap our heads around something that is impossible to understand on this side of heaven.
But I do know that human beings will always be human beings and angels will always be angels. We do not become angels when we die.
I also know that God does not take the lives of the boy and the young man. As a matter of fact, we don’t know how they die.
But we know that God does not take life. God is the creator. God is the one who gives life.
And God, with great mercy and tenderness, reaches out to the boy and the young man to heal them and to restore their lives. Further, God’s mercy is not just extended to the boy and the young man. God also shows great mercy to their mothers.
You see, the young man in the gospel has no wife, which means he is still a teenager. Teenager or not, he is also the man of the household and is responsible for his mother.
At the time of Jesus, women had no standing in society. So the widow, with her son dead, had no way to provide for herself. That’s why Jesus was moved with pity for her. That’s why Jesus touched the coffin and said, “Young man, I tell you arise.”
It is the same with the widow of Zarephath. She would be wracked with grief over the death of her boy. The prophet of God knows this so, the dead are told to arise and the mothers are told that their sons are alive.
Mercy is the hallmark of God’s dealings with his people. God’s mercy reaches out to heal those who are broken, to raise up those who are fallen.
We have all felt the pain of loss. Overwhelming stress. Family crisis. Distress over employment or finances. Maybe even poverty or violence or abuse. We have all felt dead inside. We all have need of God’s merciful love.
We even recognize our need for compassion from our friends, family, neighbors, maybe even strangers. And we know instinctively that we should care for and comfort people who are in distress.
So the next time we are faced with the tragic loss of someone who dies so young, maybe we could be more attentive to what we say. “I’m sorry for your loss.” or “You have my sympathy.” or “I can’t imagine your pain.” are all good places to start.
But “I guess God needed another angel in heaven” just isn’t helpful and maybe not such a good thing to say.
Because Jesus says, “I tell you arise.” The prophet Elijah says, “See! Your son is alive.”