15th Sunday After Pentecost: Moving From Grief To Hope
Today I want to consider a woman we meet in our Gospel readings for today. She doesn’t have a name but we know she was a widow from Nain (A village located 14 kilometers south of Nazareth) whose only son had died. Death had taken away her only source of hope, strength as well as protection. There was nothing she could do about it but weep bitterly. But then something unexpected happened. A stranger she met, told her not to weep. The rest is history.
Certain problems in life make us feel just like this poor widow because similar to death these problems are beyond our control. However this miracle shows us that nothing, not even death is beyond the control of Jesus.
This funeral crowd, came forth with no expectation of a miracle. There was no hope, There was no air of expectation about them. Just the opposite. They were weeping, wailing and mourning. They were not following a man who feeds them, gives them life, and provides great teachings. Just the opposite. This second group is following a dead man, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. This sentence is filled with sorrow. This woman is a widow. She has already lost her husband. She has already experienced that grief. And now she has lost her son as well. The text says she lost her only son. He was an only begotten son. This means she is now destitute. She has no way to provide for herself. In that culture, women could not work. They depended on their husbands. If their husband died, they depended on a son. If their son died, they would be forced to beg. That was this woman’s situation, now. She had no one to provide for her. No one to take care of her. But that was probably not her immediate concern.
Her immediate concern was that she had once again lost someone she loved dearly. Yes, nobody was going to provide for her, but worse, she was now alone. Completely alone. There is nobody for her to share her grief with. Oh sure, there is that huge crowd of people behind her. Some of them were probably her friends, but when you experience this kind of grief, you always feel completely alone, even when surrounded by multitudes.
This is the way it is when a loved one dies. Very few understands. Nobody seems to be there for you. Not only are you experiencing intense grief, but you feel utterly and completely alone.
Worse yet, when a loved one dies, the world does not stop. It seems like it should, out of respect for you and your grief. But it doesn’t. The traffic still buzzes by. The bills still arrive in the mail. The birds still chirp. The sun still comes out. People still shop. When a loved one dies, you want the rest of the world to pause too. To stand still with you. To cry with you.
Do you see the picture? Here is this woman, grieving, mourning, destitute, alone, bereaved. She is followed by a crowd of people whom she paid to mourn with her. And then things get worse. As she exits Nain, following her dead son’s coffin, she is confronted by a party. A joyful, exuberant, excited, crowd of people following a man who is very much alive. He is smiling and possibly laughing with the people behind Him. Not the kind of person you want to have at a funeral...Or maybe... He is the exact kind of person you want at a funeral.
The two crowds meeting at the gates of Nain face off. It’s awkward at first. The joyful party, recognizing that their excitement is out of place, quickly quiets down, and adopts a grieving demeanor. But it’s hard to change so quickly. Some of them are only able to express a detached sorrow for her grief. Their expressions show that they feel sorry for her, but they are not really sorrowful. Many are thinking, “Too bad for her. At least nothing like this has happened to me. I’ll just put on my sorry face until she passes. Then we can get on with life.” That’s how most of us feel when someone else suffers, right? “I’ll do my duty and frown for her, but I hope she moves by quickly. I’ve got to get on with my life. Maybe I’ll go to the funeral and send a card, but that’s as much as I can do.” It’s uncomfortable for everyone. They don’t know how to act or what to say. A few mumble some polite nonsense about being sorry for her loss. They don’t understand her pain.
Except for one man. The man in the center. The man with the laughing eyes. They are not laughing any more. He now looks like a man of sorrows. There is genuine, intense grief and compassion in His eyes. He looks like He understands. As His eyes meet hers, the twinkle of laughter turns into tears of sorrow. While the rest of the crowd averts their gaze, He alone sees Her pain and decides to comfort her. He knew lonely widow felt because his own mother was a widow. She went through the grieving process and soon she would go through the loss of her only son as well. (John 19:27). We understand how strong was Jesus’ compassion for this widow because he did not hesitate to touch the bier, although it will make him ceremonially unclean.
Right now you also might be feeling lonely and helpless just like this widow. But this miracle teaches Jesus is full of compassion, he will do anything to help us, even if it means loss to him.
Compassion is an indispensable characteristic of Jesus. The other Gospels bear witness to this. (Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34; Mark 1:40-41; 6:34). Then why not take your problem to him?
It’s ridiculous to tell a widow who has lost her only family to “not weep”. But it’s exactly what Jesus did. He said to the widow “do not weep”. I have been in many funerals and seen people attempting to comfort the grief stricken friends and family members of the deceased with their words.
But Jesus wasn’t attempting to comfort the widow. He was giving her assurance that everything will be fine again.
Today God gives us many words of assurance. He tells us in Isaiah “Fear not, for I am with thee..I will uphold thee with the right hand of my justice." He says in the first epistle of Saint Peter to “cast all our care and anxieties upon him, for he hath care of you.” In the first epistle to the Thessalonians He encourages us to “Always rejoice...In all things give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you all.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). These are just a few scriptures of assurance that Jesus gives. He has given us so much more. We can be confident in taking our sorrows, and our needs to Him.
Many assurances that the world gives us turn out to be empty assurances, because the world can’t deliver as much as it offers. But that is not the way of Jesus. The people at the funeral of Jairus’ daughter laughed at Jesus for they thought Jesus was insane (Luke 8:52-53). But all of them realized how wrong they were.
Psalm 46:1 says this about God. “Our God is our refuge and strength: a helper in troubles, which have found us exceedingly.”
People of Nain shouted, “God has come to help his people” because they thought God has suddenly remembered them after awfully long 400 years of being seemingly silent. But God didn’t forget his people. He never does. He was quiet but he wasn’t passive. He was silently preparing the world for His Sons arrival. (Matthew 3:1-3). Then at the end of the 400 years the most glorious and the biggest event recorded in human history took place when he was born to this world to rescue mankind from sin and death.
Likewise if God seems to be distant or silent in your life be patient. He may seem silent but he is not being idle.
In conclusion, let me quickly give you 7 things that can help you as you wait on Him.
Don’t ignore the silence – Some of the biggest moves God has made in my life have come after a period of spiritual dryness… when it seemed like God was doing nothing in my life. Stay very close to God and watch for Him to eventually display His workings. He will in the fullness of time.
Confront known sin in your life – Sin may not be the reason you don’t sense closeness to God right now, but if you have known sin in your life it will affect your intimacy with God.
Go back to what you know – Get back to the basics of your catholic faith. you must remind yourself why you are catholic in the first place.
Make a decision… Choose sides – You can’t adequately serve God and the world. Something happens in life, often sin, busyness, boredom, or a tragedy… but if we are normal, we have periods where we grow away from our close relationship with God. God hasn’t moved, but if you’ve shifted in your obedience, get back securely on the right side.
Trust More… Not less – Times of silence may be filled with fear, but ironically, these times require more faith. It may be that God is using this time of silence and sorrow for something bigger than you could have imagined… but whatever is next will most likely require a deeper level of trust.
Listen and Watch Closely – Some day God is going to make His plans known to you. Don’t miss them. He may come to your personally, through His Word, circumstances, spiritual director or another brother and sister in your parish.
Get ready to hear – God will break the silence some day… and when He does it WILL be good. If you mope around in your sorrows, you’ll be less prepared to receive the good things to come. Not because of your circumstances, but because of your faith, clothe yourself in joy as you wait for God to bless you after the period of silence. As I have already mentioned, scriptures say to “Always rejoice...In all things give thanks”.