TRINITY XVI – Miserere mihi
Introit: (Ps 86) Be merciful unto me, O Lord, for I call daily upon thee: for thou, O Lord, art good and gracious, and plenteous in thy mercy unto all them that call upon thee. Ps. Bow down thine ear, O Lord, and hear me: for I am poor and in misery.
Collect: O Lord, we beseech thee, let thy continual pity cleanse and defend thy Church: and, because it cannot continue in safety without thy succour, preserve it evermore by thy help and goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
OT Lesson: And Hannah prayed, and said: My heart rejoiceth in the Lord, mine horn is exalted in the Lord: my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation. There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God. Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth: for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty men are broken, and they that stumbled are girded with strength. They that were full have hired out themselves for bread; and they that were hungry ceased: so that the barren hath born seven; and she that hath many children is waxen feeble. The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up. The Lord maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up. He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and he hath set the world upon them. (I Samuel 2.1-8)
Gradual: (Ps 102) The heathen shall fear thy Name, O Lord, and all the kings of the earth thy majesty. V. When the Lord shall build up Sion: and when his glory shall appear.
Epistle: Brethren: I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. (Ephesians 3.13-21)
Alleluia. Ye that fear the Lord, put your trust in the Lord: He is their helper and defender. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: At that time: Jesus went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people. Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and much people of the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And he came and touched the bier; and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother. And there came a fear on all, and they glorified God, saying, That a great Prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people. And this rumour of him went forth throughout all Judaea, and throughout all the region round about. (St Luke 7.11-17)
In the midst of all the troubles and uncertainties that surround us, we may find ourselves asking: Where is God? Does He not care about us? Our readings today point us to the answer.
Today’s Gospel is not primarily about the raising of a dead boy (although it is about that), but about the restoration of hope, and an intimate picture of the care and compassion of God. The tiny village of Nain is a place that you can still visit in the Holy Land today, a “wide place in the road,” about eight miles from the town of Nazareth. But to understand what happened there, we need a bit of background to the event.
In St Luke’s Gospel, the first event in Jesus’ ministry is His visit to the synagogue in Nazareth. There He reads these words from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” He then declares, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The very next event following today’s Gospel presents John the Baptist in prison, who sends messengers to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” John had been sent as the prophesied forerunner. Filled with the Holy Spirit, his father Zechariah had prophesied, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.” And yet John now sits in prison, wondering if Jesus is really “the One.” So Jesus sends this answer back to John: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended by me.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus and His disciples have just come from the nearby Sea of Galilee where He had cured the son of the centurion. As they journey on, they pass the village of Nain, where they meet a funeral cortege coming out of the gate. There was, as there still is in Middle Eastern funerals, a lot of loud wailing and crying. But Jesus approaches and tells the widow, “Don’t cry.” Then … He reaches out and touches the bier. Now no observant Jew would ever do this unless absolutely necessary. To touch a dead body was to touch death, and according to the Mosaic Law, touching death meant that you yourself became unclean, with specific actions that had to be undertaken to remove that status. The pallbearers are so surprised that they stop in their tracks. Then He addresses the body and says, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And then something even more unexpected happens—the lad sits up and begins to speak.
Now there are other instances in the Gospels where Jesus raised people from the dead, but in all the other cases it was because someone asked Him for help. The raising of this widow’s son is different, because here Jesus takes the initiative. It is significant that He would do this without being asked, but we also first need to understand something of the culture of that time. The death of her son would have been devastating for that widowed mother. With her husband gone, she was totally dependent upon her son for her livelihood. Now that he was dead, not only was she left destitute, but the family line was at an end. There were no heirs. And in that culture, when the family line is cut off, it was considered to be a punishment from God. So when all the wailing died down, there would come the whispers: “She must have done something really bad to have this happen to her!” Can you imagine living in that small town, not only alone and destitute, but with all those tongues wagging? Thus the death of her son signalled the death of the mother as well.
But notice carefully what St Luke says: “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.” He did not say, “Jesus was moved with compassion,” but “the Lord was moved with compassion.” Just as we read in the Psalms, and throughout the Old Testament, “the Lord is full of compassion.” And Jesus is that same Lord, now and always. He had compassion. But Jesus’ compassion is not simply a feeling. It is the purpose of God to confront our pain at its very source and get rid of it once and for all. That is why the Word became flesh. The Lord’s compassion brings Him to earth to do battle with our sin and its consequence, death. And this is what true compassion looks like. Christ, our Lord, who knew no sin, became sin and suffered death for you and me. And in His dying, sin and death were defeated. The grave could not contain Him, and death was powerless to hold Him. When Jesus touches uncleanness it becomes clean. And when Life touches death, death is destroyed. He has come to proclaim good news. He has come to release those who are oppressed, and to bring God’s salvation in word and deed. And now He comes to bring release from death to the widow as well as her son, but ultimately to the whole world. As the people say at the end of today’s reading, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!”
What has this to do with us? Our reaction should be much more than, “Isn’t it touching that Jesus was so compassionate to this woman?” For this is the compassion that the Lord [YHWH] has ever shown toward His people. And He is the same today—the same compassionate Person—as He was on the outskirts of Nain when He worked that miracle. He shows this same compassion on us today and every day—the mercy of God in Jesus Christ. As we heard last week, if we will only seek God and His Kingdom first, He will take care of the rest of our lives. Today’s Lessons continue to encourage us to hand everything over to God’s loving care.
St Paul was writing to the Ephesians from his prison cell in Rome. If anyone had reason to be anxious and fearful, it was Paul, as he faced those last days before his martyrdom. And with the very real prospect of persecution for their faith, the Ephesians also had good reason to be anxious. Yet he writes: “I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.” How often do things that are far smaller by comparison cause us to be anxious and lose faith. Still, in calm assurance, Paul continues to pray and put his trust in God’s compassion: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.”
We seek to be merciful, even as our heavenly Father has been merciful to us in His Son, who died on the cross and rose from the dead for us and for our salvation. And the Holy Spirit strengthens us so that we may put our Lord’s teaching into practice. The same Lord who saves us—the same Father who calls us, the same Son who redeems us, the same Spirit who gives us new life from the inside out—this same God the Holy Trinity is with us as we face the difficulties of life—as we face health problems, as we face financial problems, as we face problems in our relationships, as we face persecution—the Lord is there. He has compassion on us and cares for us.
We may look at the world around us and say, “Well, that’s just the way it is. Things are getting worse, and nothing can turn the tide.” Or on the other hand, we might say, “This is a crisis! And I have to do my dead-level best to fix it!” But both these philosophies are fatally flawed. Why? Because Jesus Christ is Lord. And if Christians do not believe that God is in control, then something is very wrong. What is lacking in both cases is the virtue of hope; to trust that our Lord can be master of any situation.
All too often, we fail (or refuse) to acknowledge the lordship of Christ. Consequently, other forces take control of our lives. But if we are Christian people, then we must cling to the hope that Jesus Christ is Lord, and, because He is Lord and He cares for us, He can change things, bringing life and hope from death and despair. We might be like that widow, carrying our dead hope out to bury it. But Jesus tells us, “Don’t despair.” He touches us and brings our hope to life again. He can do that because He is Lord. This is what has ever identified us as a Christian people: the acknowledgement that Jesus Christ is Lord. As we continue our journey of faith, let us be conscious of the things that go on around us, and ask, “Is Jesus the Lord of this situation?” It will transform our lives.
Remember, Jesus took the initiative in raising the widow’s son. He had compassion. He sees all things more clearly than you and I ever could. The battles may go on, but the war has already been won! And because He is the Lord who had the power to raise the widow’s son at Nain; because He is Himself the risen Lord who has conquered and destroyed death, this hope sustains us in the midst of every difficulty, because “God has visited his people.”
Collect: Lord of all power and might, who art the Author and Giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of thy Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
And may the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord: and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.