10th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Elijah had fled to Zarephath of Sidon for refuge from the wrathful king of Israel and was staying at the house of a widow when her son died.  She is obviously devastated by the loss and she wonders how it could have happened under the same roof of the so called prophet of God.  Elijah himself seems shaken and blames God. “O LORD, my God, will you afflict even the widow with whom I am staying by killing her son?” He lays his body over the son’s body and prays three times until the “life breath” returns to the child’s body.

A similar tragic scene is played out in Nain.  A widow has lost her only son.  In a society where your place, your property and your rights were only linked to the male in your family, with the passing of her son, she has become a nobody.  But that does not need to be the reason for her excruciating pain.  It might just be that her beloved son has died. That is reason enough to break a heart.  Her pain and her wailing is heard in a thousand places in our lives; it is heard in the refugee camps where hope seems futile and cruel; it is heard in the violent streets of our city or the in the scourge of the heroin epidemic.  These cries have echoed through the ages in the death camp at Auschwitz and the horrors of American slavery.  And they seem to me to ask one large inescapable question: “Where is God to save us?”

But something is different in the city of Nain this day.  Jesus is there.  He has heard the commotion as the body is being led out of the city for he always hears the cry of the poor. He is moved with pity at the sight.  He needs to be there.  And I think for much of our lives we experience that moment with the widow of Nain.  We place alongside each other the absence and the presence of God.  For some the pain will be so great that they give up on God.  For others, perhaps the presence of God can take away all fear and doubt. But for most of us, the absence and the presence lay side by side.  In the midst of our darkness, we long for the dawn, at our greatest hurt, we await our healing and our greatest human devastation looks for some divine consolation.

And that is why it matters what god is present.  For when Jesus comes forward he comes not as a stranger to heartbreak – he knows the depth of suffering.  And it does matter that he knows the cross awaits him.  It must matter that he can come to this crying mother knowing the tears of his own mother.  The letter to the Hebrews reminds us that Jesus was made perfect through suffering and that, “In the days when he was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death.”  As he is about to lay his hands on the coffin to restore life, it is an experienced hand calloused by loss and heartbreak.  It is the hand of one whose journey did not swerve from the face of suffering.

In a society that has little good to say about suffering, we need a Messiah who has.  We need one who has defined the absence and presence of God from the cross.  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  We need the one who endured the cross and received the glory of the resurrection, the promise of eternal life.  We need the one always present to us and rejoice that “A great prophet has arisen in our midst, and God has visited his people.” We need to be saved by one who knows the stings and taste of tears.  We need the touch of the master to come to us in our hopelessness, our loss and our heartbreak, and announce his presence with power, so he may say to us as he did to young man – “Arise.”