Fr. David’s homily June 5, 2016.
Homily on left – Gospel reading on right.
The migrant crisis is one of the tragedies of our time. Here are people struggling to hold on to their human dignity. They seek a homeland and safety. They flee their country despite the risk. Seven hundred have died in just these past days, many of them children. There is no more wrenching sight than to see the raw grief of a parent whose child has died, not only at sea but perhaps in a drive-by shooting, or at the hands of a terrorist. We hear of these deaths so often that we become numb to the pain.
The widow in today’s gospel lost a child. She felt the raw grief of any parent whose child has died, and as the child was her only child, she despaired at the loss of her identity and support.
Her social security and status were gone. Jesus found the scene gut-wrenching as well. He responded to the bereft widow with “do not weep” and then touched the bier, told the dead young man to arise and gave him back to his mother, thus restoring her life as well. Jesus was always filled with compassion. Compassion is a feeling from deep inside. Luke uses the same word to describe the response of the Samaritan upon seeing the one who was beaten and robbed (Luke 10:33) and the response of the father who saw his lost son returning home. (Luke 15:20). The Greek for the word that Luke chooses suggests a turning of the womb. In Hebrew, compassion and womb are from the same root. We might say that compassion is womb love. In one sense it is seeing another as a sibling, as one born from the same womb.
There’s a story of a rabbi who asked his students how to recognize the moment when night ends and day begins. “Is it when, from a great distance, you can tell a dog from a sheep?” one student asked. “No,” said the rabbi. “Is it when, from a great distance, you can tell a date palm from a fig tree?” another student asked. “No,” said the rabbi. “Then when is it?” the students asked. “It is when you look into the face of any human creature and see your brother or your sister there. Until then, night is still with us.”
In another sense, this womb love might be understood as a mother’s love. It is the feeling God expresses through the prophet Isaiah: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands” (Isa. 49:15–16a). Womb love is love that knows that mother and child are inseparably connected. It is love that desires the child to grow into the fullness of life, that knows when to hold and embrace, when to let go and when to push the child out of the nest into the world. It is the longing a mother has for all her children to return home and gather around a Thanksgiving table. Whether sibling love or mother love, compassion is not just feeling. It finds expression in word and action. The message comes through loud and clear in Luke.
The family of God includes outsiders—those there because of accidents of birth, like the gentile centurion and his sick servant; those there because of circumstances of their lives, like this bereft widow; even those there because of choices they have made, like the criminal on the cross next to Jesus. In our time the family of God includes Muslims and Jews, Buddhists and secularists. They all belong to the reign of God that Jesus ushers in. Compassion doesn’t give up but keeps translating and re-translating the message until all can hear in their own language and know that they belong. The actions of compassion are always life-giving, but they often take one into the risky places of death and defilement. For the Good Samaritan it meant getting close to someone’s open wounds and going out of his way to provide care. For the prodigal father it meant risking ridicule from his community when he embraced someone who’d been living in a pigsty. For Jesus, it meant touching a funeral bier that foreshadowed his own death. “God has looked favorably on his people,” the people said after Jesus raised the widow’s son. God gives us birth, looks on us with compassion, with womb love, with mother love, and sees the family resemblance. God also empowers us to look with the same eyes on one another. May that empowerment move us to see one another that way.
Gospel Lk 7:11-17
Jesus journeyed to a city called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd accompanied him. As he drew near to the gate of the city, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” He stepped forward and touched the coffin; at this the bearers halted, and he said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, crying out “A great prophet has arisen in our midst, “ and “God has visited his people.” This report about him spread through the whole of Judea and in all the surrounding region.