Gospel Reflection for World Environment Day 2016
Ordinary Time 10C, Luke 7:11-17
by Sr Veronica Lawson RSM
Liberation or release for the most marginalised is at the heart of the mission of the Lukan Jesus. At the beginning of his ministry, we find him in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth, reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and appropriating to himself and to his mission the words of the prophet. He knows that the Spirit of God is upon him and that God has anointed him to bring good news to the destitute and release to the shattered (Luke 4:16-20). As the gospel narrative unfolds, we hear story after story of Jesus bringing good news for the destitute and release for the shattered.
In today’s gospel passage, he encounters a funeral cortege at the gates of Nain. He is said to be moved with compassion (esplanchnisthē) for the plight of a widow who is shattered and under threat of a life of destitution. Women who lacked the protection of a husband or adult son were among the most destitute in first century Palestine. The unnamed woman of our story has already suffered the loss of her husband. She now grieves for the loss of her adult son. For a widow to lose her only son was nothing short of shattering. She would be entirely dependent on the goodwill of neighbours and friends and whatever extended family she may have had. Jesus knows that the death of her son has made this woman even more dependent and vulnerable than she had been made by her husband’s death.
Nain was a tiny village in the Valley of Jezreel in the southern part of Galilee. As in every town, the gate would have been the place where legal cases were determined and justice was delivered. Now, at the gate of this town, Jesus of Nazareth brings both mercy and justice. He feels the pain of the widow in his own being and responds by restoring life, not only to the young man, but to his mother, to the extended family and to the grieving village community. Like this young man, Jesus is the only son of a woman who had possibly been widowed by the time he began his public ministry. His mother is to know the same pain of loss as her unnamed “sister” in Nain.
The sight of the funeral procession and the tears of the woman elicit the compassion of Jesus. The verb “to have compassion” (splanchnizein) denotes a deeply felt response in the depths of a person’s being. It implies not just an emotional response, but action for mercy and justice. Tears will function in next week’s gospel reading as an instrument of hospitality. In this story, tears and touch bring life to a son who was lost and restore life to a community and to a family within that community.
Gospel Reflection for Laudato Si’ Week 2016
Ordinary Time 12C, Luke 9:18-24
by Sr Veronica Lawson RSM
The mention of prayer in Luke is always a signal that something momentous is about to happen. Today’s gospel opens with the puzzling assertion that Jesus is praying “alone” although his disciples are with him. It is as if his conversation with them is part of Jesus’ solitary prayer. This gives us an insight into the prayer of Jesus: his prayer and his life mission are intimately connected. It is important for him and for his mission that his disciples come to recognise who he is. He puts two questions to them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?” The crowds see him as John the Baptist or Elijah or one of the prophets “arisen”. We can hear the disciples all joining in this part of the conversation, sharing what they have heard. Their answers echo an earlier passage in this same chapter of Luke where Herod Antipas is said to be puzzled by such descriptions of Jesus and asks “Who is this about whom I hear such things?” (Luke 9:7-9).
Since Herod put this question, Jesus has pursued his ministry of teaching and healing and responding to the hunger of the crowds. Jesus himself now raises the question of his identity. We can sense the silence of the disciples when they are faced with the second question, “Who do you say that I am?” It is Peter alone who answers this time. For him and for the other disciples, Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed of God. Jesus instructs them to keep this to themselves. The disciples have much to learn before they can truly understand what they profess.
Within first-century Judaism, many expected a royal militaristic figure who would drive out the occupiers and restore Israel’s status as an independent nation. Even as Peter identifies Jesus as the “Messiah of God”, it is unlikely that his notion of messiah or Christ leaves room for a suffering Messiah. Has Jesus in his prayer been pondering the way of suffering he is to endure if his work as the Messiah of God is to be completed? He is to undergo “great suffering”’, he will be rejected by the religious authorities, he will be put to death and God will raise him up. This description meets none of the popular expectations of God’s Messiah.
In case the disciples miss the implications of this, Jesus makes it clear that suffering is also the lot of those who want to “follow” him. Discipleship, now as then, has nothing to do with protecting one’s own interests, with “saving one’s life”. It has everything to do with hearing and responding to the distress of the human poor and the distress of the earth itself.
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