This morning’s Gospel reading is Luke 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, exclaiming, “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.
I’m a sucker for films dealing with redemption. Rooms suddenly seem to get dusty and the eyes irritated when characters finally face their own shortcomings and reach out to others in their brokenness. To be honest, the film doesn’t have to be all that good — as my wife will tell you in no small measure of exasperation, I can watch bad films as often as good films. (I do know the difference, but some bad films have entertainment value, too.) The nature and context of the redemption in the films matters less than the sincerity and integrity of its presentation, even when the rest of the film may not be all that compelling. The classic It’s a Wonderful Life is clearly among the best of these movies, and readers might have other examples to share.
I know I’m not alone in this, because there are so many examples of redemption stories in entertainment — films, literature, plays, and so on. The need for redemption touches the human heart in a particular way, and perhaps becomes even more acute as we grow older and realize our need for it more. In younger days, we don’t focus on the mistakes we make and the hurt we cause. As we grow older and experience more and more of it, we look back on those with greater understanding, and with the regret that we can do nothing to change or undo them. We carry them as reminders of our limitations, and yearn for some form of redemption that would make everyone whole again.
Today’s readings offer a glimpse into that yearning with two stories of resurrection, both of which foreshadow Jesus’ own resurrection. Jesus visits Nain in our Gospel reading and comes across a funeral procession. In His pity, he raises the young man from the dead, restoring the widow’s son to life. Other than this, we hear very little about the widow or her son.
In our first reading from 1 Kings, we get more of a sense of the purpose of these miracles. The prophet Elijah visits a widow, whose son falls ill and dies, a death which she connects to the guilt of her sins. She cries out to Elijah, who then prays to the Lord to spare the child for the widow’s sake. The Lord restores the boy to life, and the widow understands that the Lord has redeemed her from sin and brought life back to her son as a result.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians offers a different context for redemption. As Saul, he persecuted the early church, even “beyond many of my contemporaries among my race, since I was even more a zealot for my ancestral traditions.” He sinned greatly against the Apostles and the early members of the church, even being present for the murder of the first martyr, Stephen the deacon. The risen Christ revealed Himself directly to Paul to force him to recognize his great sins and to mourn over them, and then to become the great Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul’s redemption in service came after his realization of his sins, and the mourning he did in natural consequence of that recognition.
Scriptures make it clear that death was not in God’s original plan for man, but that man chose of his free will to sin by disobedience. As a result, our corporeal lives have a definite end point in this life. We will all die at some point, hopefully a long way off from now, but it will come just as it did in Sidon and Nain. Our family and friends will mourn our deaths and their loss, as much as we would prefer to spare them from that pain.
But it is the mourning over our own sin and the realization that we need redemption from it that leads to our salvation in Christ. “Blessed are those who mourn,” Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, “for they will be comforted.” That comfort comes in redemption — a rescue from sin and its consequences. Our responsorial today comes from Psalm 30, which states “I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me … You have changed my mourning into dancing.” It is our recognition of our sins that cause us to mourn them, and that mourning that allows the Holy Spirit into our hearts to bring us redemption from sin and life everlasting.
And the best part of this is, unlike with others whose hurt might never allow us to make things right, the Lord is always open to our redemption. Even at the point of death, as we see in today’s readings, the Lord stands ready to restore us to life through our recognition of our need for redemption. All we need to do is allow ourselves to be rescued, primarily by recognizing we need that rescue.
Deep down within us, that recognition already exists, which is why redemption stories and themes are so popular. We have our own happy endings at hand, if we give ourselves that chance.
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here. For previous Green Room entries, click here.