Homily for the Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
Given at Immaculate Heart of Mary and Christ the King parishes
June 9, 2013
Death; death permeates these readings and can weigh a person down like a heavy coat in June. These readings remind us that even though the world has come back to life after all those dark days of winter, dark days that once past are quickly forgotten; death is never that far away. We have recently experienced the death and burial of Christ after the struggles of Lent; we went through all of that. Now here we are after some pretty uplifting Sundays… Easter, Pentecost, Holy Trinity, The Most Holy Body and Blood, confirmations… so many celebrations of late, and now the Church takes us right back to that all too familiar place, the death bed, the mourning chamber. We are reminded that death is lonely and inescapable!
Who here has had no experience of death? A precious few young people I would imagine and those days too will eventually come to an end. We all, sometime or another, each and every one of us; yes all of us, we all experience death both in our lives and one day in a very personal way. There’s the joke that only two things in life are certain, death and taxes, well if the tax help commercials are to be believed there are companies that can all but get you out of the taxes; that leaves only death. Death, the great equalizer of all humanity; we have experienced death, I have experienced death, Father John has experienced death, we have experienced death in our community, on our streets, in our town, our country, and in our world. All one has to do is be open up enough to care about others around them for one moment, for one second, and it will be right there – pain, suffering, and eventually death. There it is again, death is lonely and inescapable!
The first reading and the Gospel describe widows who have lost their sons. We can too easily look past the pain and the anxiety of these two widows, look past their plight to the reassurance that things turned out all right in the end. We can instead try and slow down and spend some time with them in their suffering. The sufferings of each of these widows, while wholly unique to each of them, have similar characteristics. They are widows, they have no husband, and there is no mention of other children, they are now alone, and for a woman in Biblical Palestine this was as good as a death sentence. They are also unnamed. Sisters and brothers never pass up an opportunity when in the Scriptures a character is left unnamed, that space has been left open for each of us to fill with our own worries and anxieties. You and I are challenged to place ourselves in the story with our own troubles and imagine that the little hope we had for the future, our child, has died. These women and their dead children deserve more than just a quick glance, a look of pity that quickly turns to something more cheerful, they deserve to have us sit with them a while. Death for us, like it was for these widows, is lonely and inescapable!
To take this a step further, there is Paul in the second reading. He described how he persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. How many widows do you think he left in his wake? We know he was an accessory to at least one murder, the stoning of one of the first deacons and the first Christian martyr, Stephen. Paul stood by holding the cloaks of the murderers. One can bet there was one widow right there in Paul’s early career. Paul would go on to do a lot of good, but one cannot simply forget his past life, he certainly is interested in reminding people of his blood stained zealous history. People had a hard time escaping from Paul as well as the death that he brought with him.
Death is painful, and most of us know all too well how easy it is to want to run away from it, avert our eyes, do whatever it takes to feel safe again. These readings make that difficult, Scripture insists that we take a good hard look at both our mortality, and the mortality of those around us, for death is lonely and inescapable! Like so many things, however, there is the danger of not enough and then there is the danger of too much. Church, have you adequately looked into that void which is death? Are you in danger of becoming immersed in death? Let the Church say amen. I’ve always wanted to do that! That tipping point, that point where you might fall into looking at death too much, that is exactly where I want you! Amen, amen I say to you “God has visited his people!”
"God has visited his people," how much more meaningful are these Gospel words once we have opened ourselves to the experience of death itself? We have not brushed past death just to get to the happy ending; instead we took our time and gave death a good hard look and because of our efforts we are now more prepared to hear this joy filled phrase! “God has visited his people.”
Death doesn’t always have to be sudden and dramatic. Instead many people experience small deaths on a daily basis: deaths that slowly kill off a person’s desires, kill a person’s passion, kill a person’s hope for the future of the world and them in it. God has visited his people, not only in times of physical death, but in times of this spiritual death as well. And make no mistake about it a spiritual death can lead to a physical death, and vice versa.
There is a section from the Book of Job that I want to share with you. The whole book is interesting, and I highly recommend sitting down and reading through it. It’s the one where God allows the devil to take away the many good things in Job’s life to tempt him into blaspheming against God. Once Job has lost all of his flocks, all his children, as well as his health, and even his own wife begins to turn against him, it is then that Job’s three friends come to visit him. For seven days and seven nights these three friends say nothing, they only wish to keep Job company in his sorrow. Those seven days came to an end, however, and eventually one of Job’s friends begins to question him. Trying to be helpful this friend begins to wonder what Job must have done to deserve all this suffering. God’s visits are much more like the first seven days. God is not interested in finding the answers; God – especially in the person of Jesus Christ – is much more content with being with us in our suffering. Few words, if any, will make a difference for people like Job and an attempt at answers will only confuse the situation all the more. Instead, like Job, we need to know that God is with us in our suffering. How though are we reassured of this presence? We can be reassured through the cross, through the knowledge that God himself has suffered pain, trial, humiliation, and death itself. God is no stranger to these life events, and God is content to visit with his people and let his loving presence say what words so often cannot.
Sometimes suffering is so great, however, that the presence of God remains hidden – in many ways this is where we come in. We can bring God’s presence to life for one another by being present to those who are suffering, present to those so in despair that they have trouble feeling God with them. We can sit with people and bring comforting consolation often without saying a word. I know we already do this, but how much more affective are we when we do it with the realization in our hearts of what we are actually doing? Visit with people, be with people, and bring Christ to others in your visits ever mindful that God has first visited you, comforted you, strengthened you. We cannot give what we do not have, so experience that presence and go share it with those who need it as much, or more, than you do.
Church can you feel it now? Can you feel God’s presence here among us brought alive by being in communion with one another? I know I can! I know that worshiping with you all puts flesh on that Pentecost event that happens here every time we gather to worship the Lord!