10TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle C)
1 Kings 17:17-24
Psalms 30:2, 4-6, 11-13
The Theme of the Readings: The Promise of Victory over Death.
The Old Testament gave the hope of victory over death. Wisdom 3:1-4 conveys that hope: But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in view of the foolish, to be dead ... yet is their hope full of immortality. And the passage continues: those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love: because grace and mercy are with his holy ones and his care is with his elect (Wis 3:9). But the promise of victory over death was not revealed until the Gospel of Jesus Christ: Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life (Jn 6:47); Whoever eats may flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day (Jn 6:54); Jesus told her, "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die" (Jn 11:25-26; also see Mt 22:31-32; 1 Cor 15:55; 2 Tim 1:10). Today's liturgical readings address life and death and our hope of eternal life that rests in Christ, as expressed in the entrance antiphon: "The Lord is my light and my salvation. Who shall frighten me: The Lord is the defender of my life. Who shall make me tremble?" (Ps 27:1-2).
In the First Reading, the prophet Elijah is the guest of a poor Gentile widow who showed him kindness by inviting him to stay with her and her son while he was a refugee in her town. When her son becomes ill and dies, she asks the question we all ask when faced with unexplainable suffering—"Why does God punish me in this way?" Elijah appeals to God to bring life back to the child. God hears His prophet's prayer and restores life to the widow's son, rewarding the good works of the Gentile widow and providing the lesson that God is the author of life and that He will one day provide a means of victory over death through His only begotten Son, the supreme Prophet, Jesus Christ.
In the Second Reading, St. Paul relates his conversion experience to the faith community at Galatia. Like David in our Responsorial Psalm, God delivered Paul from "the enemy." Paul was delivered from his own false understanding and persecution of the Church—it was in fact St. Paul who was the enemy! He attributes his deliverance to divine intervention through a revelation of Jesus in which his old life was left behind, and he was raised up to a new life in Christ Jesus.
The First Reading prepares us for a repeat of Elijah's miracle in the Gospel Reading when Jesus raises to life another only son of a widow. Jesus' miracles were the signs that He was indeed the promised Messiah, but they were also the visible signs of the greater miracle that was to come—the liberation of mankind from spiritual death that is the consequence of sin and entrance into Heaven that is made possible through Jesus' Passion and Resurrection (Mk 2:1-12; CCC 536; 1026). The miracles of raising the dead during Jesus' earthly ministry prefigures the promise of our future bodily resurrection when Jesus will return in glory to raise the living and the dead—an event that is the prelude to the Last Judgment (Rev 20:11-15).
The First Reading 1 Kings 17:17-24 ~ Elijah Restored the
Son of the Widow of Zarephath to Life
The prophet Elijah went to Zarephath of Sidon to the house of a widow. 17 Some time later the son of the mistress of the house fell sick, and his sickness grew more severe until he stopped breathing. 18 So she said to Elijah, "Why have you done this to me, O man of God? Have you come to me to call attention to my guilt and to kill my son?" 19 "Give me your son," Elijah said to her. Taking him from her lap, he carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his own bed. 20 He called out to the LORD: "O LORD, my God, will you afflict even the widow with whom I am staying by killing her son?" 21 Then he stretched himself out upon the child three times and called out to the LORD: "O LORD, my God, let the life breath return to the body of this child." 22 The LORD heard the prayer of Elijah; the life breath returned to the child's body and he revived. 23 Taking the child, Elijah brought him down into the house from the upper room and gave him to his mother. "See!" Elijah said to her, "your son is alive." 24 "Now indeed I know that you are a man of God," the woman replied to Elijah. "The word of the LORD comes truly from your mouth." (Note that the word LORD in capital letters replaces the divine name YHWH that is in the Hebrew text.)
The 8th century BC prophet Elijah the Tishbite is one of the most important figures in Old Testament history. His name means "Yahweh is my God." It was his mission to preserve the knowledge and worship of the God of Israel in the struggle against the pagan worship of Baal that was re-introduced into the land of Israel by Queen Jezebel, the Tyrian wife of Israel's king Ahab (1 Kng 16:29-33). God sent Elijah to tell the king a three year drought was God's divine judgment on the apostate people of Israel who had broken His covenant and turned to idol worship (1 Kng 17:1). To preserve Elijah's life, God sent him to live in the Gentile region of Zarephath near the Phoenician port city of Sidon where God prepared the heart of a good but impoverished Gentile widow to provide for His prophet. As it turned out, Elijah provided for her and her son with bread that she made from a jar of flour and a jug of oil. both of which miraculously never ran dry (1 Kng 17:8-16). Our reading begins a year after Elijah first began living with this generous widow and her young son.
17 Some time later
the son of the mistress of the house fell sick, and his sickness grew more
severe until he stopped breathing. 18 So
she said to Elijah, "Why have you done this to me, O man of God? Have you come
to me to call attention to my guilt and to kill my son?"
When her child became ill and died the widow, in her grief, accused Elijah of being responsible. She reasoned that living in close proximity to a holy man had magnified her sins, resulting in God's judgment and the death of her son. She asked the question many of us ask when confronting grief and loss: "Why does God punish me in this way?" Scripture tells us that God does not want us to suffer: Because God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living (Wis 1:13) ... For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him. But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world ... (Wis 2:23-24a).
Under the Law of the Sinai Covenant, contact with a dead body rendered a believer ritually "unclean" and unfit for worship for the period of a week. Ritual purity could only be restored through a "double resurrection" of ritual water purification on the third and seventh day (Num 19:11-19). Elijah knew God could restore him to purity and communion and so, responding to the good woman's grief, Elijah petitioned God to restore the life of the child. He petitioned the LORD (Yahweh) a significant three times. In the significance of numbers in Scripture, three of anything points to an event of importance, especially an event that is important in God's divine plan for mankind's salvation.
The three times repetition was viewed by some Church Fathers as prefiguring the mystery of the Trinity whose breath of life we receive in Christian Baptism (Augustine and Caesarius of Arles). Other Fathers of the Church like Ambrose of Milan (c. 333/334-397) saw the widow weeping in grief for her dead son as a symbolic image of Mother Church weeping for those of her children who are spiritually dead in the grip of sin and taken beyond her loving arms. St. Ambrose wrote: "... the widow signifies Mother Church, weeping for those who are dead in sin and carried beyond the safety of her gates. The multitudes looking on will praise the Lord when sinners rise again from death and are restored to their mother." When we are dead to sin it is Christ who, through His representative the priest, restores us to life in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And like the dead son of the widow who befriended Elijah, after our sins are absolved, we are placed once again in the arms of our loving Mother, the Church.
Elijah begins his prayer by asking God if this woman, who has shown him kindness, deserves the punishment she has received. Perhaps feeling somewhat responsible, the prophet's words hint at the unfairness that is an echo of the woman's words in verse 18 that accused the prophet and his God. Then Elijah appeals to God the bring life back to the child. God hears His prophet's prayer and restores life to the widow's son, rewarding the good works of the Gentile widow and providing the lesson that God is the author of life and that He will one day provide a means of victory over death through His only begotten Son, the supreme Prophet (Dt 18:15-19).
This story also provides the message that God is not just the God of Israel and foreshadows the extension of the Gospel of salvation to the Gentiles in the era of the New Covenant in Christ. In the first homily of Jesus' earthly mission in His hometown of Nazareth, Jesus will mention this miracle: Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon (Lk 4:25-26). In the conclusion of the story of Elijah and the Gentile widow, the granting of the petition of God's representative, the prophet Elijah, in the miracle of the restoration of her son's life confirms the Gentile widow's faith that Elijah is a holy prophet of Yahweh: "Now indeed I know that you are a man of God," the woman replied to Elijah. "The word of the LORD [YHWH] comes truly from your mouth" (1 Kng 17:24; also see CCC 2583). It is the same confirmation of belief that Christians have in the miracle of the Resurrection of the Son of God and our faith in our own spiritual new life in the Sacrament of Christian Baptism which is continually restored when we seek forgiveness of our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Responsorial Psalm 30:2, 4-6, 11-13 ~ A Psalm of
Thanksgiving for Deliverance
Response: "I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me."
2 I praise you, LORD, for you raised me up and did not let my enemies rejoice over me. 4 LORD, you brought me up from Sheol; you kept me from going down to the pit.
Response: 5 Sing praise to the LORD, you faithful; give thanks to God's holy name. 6 For divine anger lasts but a moment; divine favor lasts a lifetime. At dusk weeping comes for the night; but at dawn there is rejoicing.
[To you LORD, I cried out ...] 11 "Hear, O LORD, have mercy on me; LORD, be my helper." 12 You changed my mourning into dancing; you took off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness. 13 With my whole being I sing endless praise to you. O LORD, my God, forever will I give you thanks.
This psalm is attributed to King David. David praises God for saving him from his enemies. David compares God saving him and "raising him up" to being dead in Sheol and raised again to life (verses 2 and 4). Sheol is the Hebrew word for the Greek Hades, the abode of the dead/the grave (netherworld) and a place of purification for the righteous and the wicked (see CCC 633). Sheol was the state to which all souls were consigned from the Fall of Adam to the descent of Jesus into Sheol to rescue those purified souls who accepted His Gospel message of salvation and who He took into heaven (1 Pt 3:18-20; 4:6; Apostles Creed; CCC 633-34). Sts. Peter and Paul speak of David's knowledge of the One who will not face corruption in Psalms 15:8-11 LXX (Hebrew text 16:8-11) in their homilies in Acts 2:25-36 and 13:35-37.
The Psalms reminds us that God rescues us from sin and will give us victory over death. When we are dead in sin, it is Christ, through His bloody outstretched arms on the altar of the Cross and the words of Jesus spoken by His priest, who deliveres us from spiritual death. We are delivered from sin and restored to life and fellowship with Christ and fellowship with our brothers and sisters in our family, the Church.
The Second Reading Galatians 1:11-19 ~ St. Paul's
Deliverance and New Life in Christ
11 Now I want you to know, brothers, that the Gospel preached by me is not of human origin. 12 For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you heard of my former way of life in Judaism, how I persecuted the Church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it, 14 and progressed in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my race, since I was even more a zealot for my ancestral traditions. 15 But when God, who from my mother's womb had set me apart and called me through his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him to the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were Apostles before me; rather, I went into Arabia and then returned to Damascus. 18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to confer with Kephas and remained with him for fifteen days. 19 But I did not see any other of the apostles, only James the brother of the Lord.
In this passage, St. Paul is relating his conversion experience to the largely Gentile-Christian faith community at Galatia. Like David in the responsorial psalm, Paul was delivered from "the enemy" when he was delivered from his own false understanding and persecution of the Church—it was in fact St. Paul who was the enemy! He attributes his deliverance to divine intervention through a revelation of Jesus in which his old life was left behind and he was called to a new life in Christ (see Acts 9:1-19). He testifies that it was his destiny from his mother's womb, recalling the commissioning of the Old Testament prophets like the prophet Jeremiah and the last Old Testament prophet, St. John the Baptist (Jer 1:1-8; Lk 1:15).
Paul says that he was called specifically to be Christ's apostle to the Gentiles-men and women like Elijah's widow. Paul says that he withdrew to Arabia, probably to study the Old Testament Scriptures in the light of their fulfillment in Christ Jesus, before he returned to Damascus to preach the Gospel. Then after three years (probably three years after his conversion experience) he went to Jerusalem to meet with St. Peter, who Paul always refers to by the Aramaic name Jesus gave him which is Kepha ("Rock")-transliterated into the Greek as Kephas (Acts 9:19b-30). He spent fifteen days with Peter, the leader of the Apostles and Vicar of Jesus' Church. The only other Church leader that Paul met was St. James the Just, the kinsman of Jesus, the first Christian bishop of the Jerusalem church, and the inspired writer of the Letter of James.
It is good for us to remember that St. Paul, who was trained in the Law of Moses by one of the most learned rabbis of his time (Acts 22:3), found it necessary to study and prepare to preach the Gospel of salvation which was his divinely instituted mission. We must also, in our new lives in which we have been delivered from sin and death and raised to new life in Christ through Christian baptism, spend time studying the Scriptures and learning how to share the Gospel of salvation. It is what we must do if we intend to fulfill the mission Christ has given us as His apostles in the Sacrament of Confirmation.
The Gospel Reading Luke 7:11-17~ Jesus Restores Life to
the Widow's Son
11 Soon afterward he journeyed to a city called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd accompanied him. 12 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. 13 When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and said to her, "Do not weep." 14 He stepped forward and touched the coffin; at this the bearers halted, and he said, "Young man, I tell you, arise!" 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, exclaiming, "A great prophet has arisen in our midst," and "God has visited his people." 17 This report about him spread through the whole of Judea and in all the surrounding region.
Nain is located in southern Galilee almost on the border with Samaria. The site of the ancient city has been identified as the Muslim town of Nein in the Plain of Jezreel about 6 miles southeast from Nazareth. The town and the church built over the site of the widow's house are mentioned in the writings and journals of 4th and 5th century Christian clergy and pilgrims to the Holy Land. The house of the widow probably became an early Christian church-home before the large church was built (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Doubleday, 1992, vol. 4, "Nain," pages 1000-1001; The Illustrated Dictionary and Concordance of the Bible, The Jerusalem Publishing House, Ltd., 1986, "Nain").
St. John the Baptist came in the spirit of the Old Testament prophet Elijah, and like Elijah his mission was to call Israel to repentance (Lk 1:17; 3:3). But John was succeeded by Jesus, an even greater prophet, in the same way Elijah was succeeded by a greater prophet, his disciple Elisha. Jesus' miracle in restoring life to the only son of the widow recalls the miracle of the prophet Elijah raising to life the only son of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kng 17:17-24 in the first reading) and Elisha restoring to life the only son of the Shunammite woman (see 2 Kng 4:31-17). One difference is that Jesus does not wait to be asked to restore the young man to life—He responds out of His compassion for the grieving mother. You will recall that to come in contact with a dead body made one ritually impure and unfit for worship; however, the ritual purity laws of the old covenant had no impact on Jesus who was without sin. He came to purify sinners with the power to raise the dead physically and spiritually. Jesus raised the dead three times in the Gospels:
Jesus' miracles were the signs that He was indeed the promised Messiah (Lk 7:22), but they were also the visible signs of the greater miracle that was to come—the liberation of mankind from spiritual death that is the consequence of sin and entrance into Heaven that is made possible through Jesus' Passion and Resurrection (Mk 2:1-12; CCC 536; 1026). These miracles of raising the dead during Jesus' earthly ministry also prefigure the promise of our future bodily resurrection when Jesus will return in glory to raise the living and the dead—an event that is the prelude to the Last Judgment (Rev 20:11-15). Describing the event of Jesus' Second Advent and the Resurrection of the dead, St. Paul writes: For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore, console one another with these words. (1 Thes 4:16-18).
If Jesus should return tomorrow, are you ready? Have you kept your soul pure by the cleansing power of the Blood of the Lamb? The sacrifice of the Mass in which we receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist cleanses believers of venial sins, but all mortal sins must be confessed and forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Are you prepared to be received into the heavenly Sanctuary in which nothing unclean can enter? For more information on the forgiveness of mortal and venial sins see CCC 987, 1393-95, 1424, 1436, 1452, 1458, 1846, 1856.
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013
1 Kings 17:17-24 (CCC 2583)
Galatians 1:13 (CCC 752), 1:15-16 (CCC 442), 1:15 (CCC 153), 1:16 (CCC 659), 1:19 (CCC 500)
Luke 7:11-17 (CCC 994), 7:16 (CCC 1503)