Luke 7:11-17   Homily, June 5th



Our Gospel reading this morning is the story of Jesus’ visit to Nain, and his bringing the dead man back to life. It’s not a very well known story, even though it appears in our lectionary every 3 years. And it causes all kinds of problems for Biblical scholars. The problem is that it is written by Luke, and Luke was trying to write history. Jesus had been dead for about 55 years by the time Luke wrote this, and Luke’s concern was that the history of “The Christ Event” would become distorted, or lost with time. He wanted to record it as accurately as he could.

Now, Luke would have had no sense that he was writing a chapter of the Bible to be read and studied 2,000 years later. He was apparently just trying to record what he thought was an important event in history, so that it wouldn’t get lost to history. That means that when we want history, we usually turn to Luke.

But something went wrong with this story. It is obviously a retelling of our 1st Reading from 1st Kings, where Elijah brings back to life the son of a widow. Luke’s version is almost identical, except that he has Jesus bringing the son of a widow back to life instead of Elijah. Another problem is that this story doesn’t appear in the other Gospels, or any of the other known writing outside of the Bible.

So, we have Luke the historian, compromising his history. Why would he do this? If historical accuracy was so important to Luke, why would he “fudge history” here? Every good Jew would have known the Elijah story. They would have recognized Luke’s story as a “parallel.” The early church had the earlier Gospels, and they would have known that this story didn’t appear in those earlier Gospels. Why would Luke do this?

Well, there are a lot of theories out there, and several of them make sense. Most Biblical commentators note that after Elijah performs his “bringing back to life”, the widow’s response was: “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

THAT was what Luke wanted for Jesus. Elijah was seen as one of the great Patriarchs of the Jewish people, who was chosen by God, who spoke for God, acted for God, interceded for God. And THIS is how Luke wanted his readers to understand Jesus.

Also, there was already a link established between Jesus and Elijah. Remember in the story of the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor? Moses and Elijah, who had both been dead a long time, were seen conversing with Jesus. THAT story makes no sense at all, but it links Jesus to the two great Patriarchs, Moses and Elijah.

Another point we need to remember is that under Jewish Law of the day, a woman held no property, and she could not work to support herself. When she became a widow, she had nothing. If she was lucky enough to have a son, it would be his responsibility to take care of his mother. If she didn’t have a son, she was in real trouble. And in Luke’s story, it is the son of a widow who died. This would have meant that the widow would have become a beggar on the streets. So, there are several possible reasons why Luke added this story to his history.

I know I’ve told this story before, but it’s my “bringing back to life story.” Many years ago, when I was a new priest, serving in another congregation, a member of the parish died, and I buried him. About two weeks later, I paid a visit to his widow, just to check in and see how she was doing. After a few minutes of niceties, she really lit into me. “If I was really a ‘Man of God’, I would not have let her husband die. She assured me that my predecessor, whom she loved dearly, would have brought her husband back. If I was the type of clergy the Church was turning out, she would not be back to church.

Now, I was a very young priest when this happened, but I can remember getting into my car, lighting up a cigarette, and sitting there, sort of stunned. I don’t know how to bring someone back from the dead, or keep him from dying. Doctors can sometimes bring someone back, or keep someone from dying, but I’m a priest. I don’t do that. Well, I haven’t had any more of that, so I guess I’m doing o.k., but it was a challenging event.

I think we have a different understanding of life and death today, than in Biblical times. If you read our Psalm for today, and as you read Scripture, it’s pretty clear that in Biblical times, a death was almost always seen as “God’s taking a person away” – a pro-active action by God. I guess there’s still some of that today, but I think that we more often see death as part of “the natural order.” There is birth, and there is life, and there is death. That’s just the way it’s meant to be. Some of us go to some pretty extreme efforts to prolong life, and youth, and beauty, and all of that stuff, but I don’t think many of us kid ourselves into thinking that we can achieve eternity, or even want to. Our concerns today seem to be almost the opposite, with our Living Wills, and Advance Directives, and Medical Powers of Attorney. Most of us don’t want extraordinary efforts made to keep us alive. We’ve seen what can be done, and know that it’s not part of “the natural order.” We seem to understand that today.

Well, this isn’t a very happy topic for an early summer homily. It’s summer time, with warm weather, and beautiful flowers, and vacations, and all sorts of nice things. Right now, our job is to live good and full lives. That’s no small task, and I think that’s where we need to put our efforts. Let’s focus on the living, and doing good, and having wonderful experiences, and learning new things, and enjoying each other. Let’s focus on enjoying the life that God has given us, and leave all that other stuff for another time.


Posted June 7, 2016 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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