September 14, 2020, Monday of the 24th Week of Ordinary Time
Scripture: Luke 7:1-10
After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, ‘He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.’ And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go”, and he goes, and to another, “Come”, and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this”, and the slave does it.’ When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
“‘. . . . I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; . . .
but only speak the word,”
The centurion in today’s Gospel is an interesting figure. He is part of the Roman occupying force, but he built the local synagogue. The Jewish elders respect him. A cynic might say the centurion was merely good at small-town politics, but then we see that he even cares about a dying slave in his household. This centurion is on the road of responding to God’s invitation. Yet he is more than just an enigmatic figure in the Gospel narrative, for he speaks for all of us in our deepest moments of communion and appeal to the Lord: “I am not worthy . . but only speak the word.”
Grace — God’s life active in this world and in our lives —- is a gift. God always has the first move. He created us in his likeness and image. With no prior merit or action on our part (we didn’t even exist) we are born into this world. For those of us who were baptized as infants, the truth is carried even further. We were brought into God’s family, the Church, through no effort or merit on our part. It is all a gift — pure gift.
A first question that arises from this is: will I open this gift, treasure it, and put it to good use. Well, obviously this has happened to some extent or I wouldn’t be here actively reflecting on the Liturgy of the Word for today. So then the question for me is not so much will I respond to God’s first move; I’ve made a second move. The real question is: who gets the third move? Does my response to God’s grace take on a life of its own to the point God has a relatively minor role to play in my life? Or do I bear in mind that there is no question of earning God’s favor or being worthy of his grace?
September 15, 2020, Tuesday of the 24th Week of Ordinary Time
Scripture: Luke 7:11-17
Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’ The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen among us!’ and ‘God has looked favorably on his people!’ This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
“‘Jesus gave him to his mother.”
This is how I picture the scene. As was customary then, the men of the village led the way, followed by the stretcher bearing the body — the body of her son. She shuffled along behind the bier, head down in tears, numb. Behind her walked the other women of Nain. The music of flutes and the wailing of professional mourners filled the air. It had all happened so suddenly. Of necessity the body had to buried on the same day her son died. She couldn’t wrap her mind around it; the form on the stretcher, with the white cloth over his face, is her own dear boy, the only survivor of his siblings. He is also her sole support — her provider and protector. Or rather, he had been all this. The full import of what was happening washed over her, and she almost stumbled.
She realized that someone was walking beside her. “Do not weep,” said a deep voice. She looked up, blinked back her tears, and met the compassionate gaze of — who? The man touched the stretcher, and the bearers stopped. Then the unbelievable happened. He told her son to get up; the young man sat up straight. Someone removed the cloth from his face, and he began to ask, “What’s happening? What am I doing on this?” Then the itinerant rabbi took the mother by the arm and brought her to her son.
Thinking about the scene, I realize that something hasn’t changed since that time. First-century Israel had its marginalized people, which included widows and orphans. Twenty-first century America has its own marginalized people —- a list too lengthy to enumerate. We might have opportunities to help some of these fellow human beings materially, but there’s something else we can always do. We can remember them in prayer.
God, my Father, today I ask you to especially bless these people whom I do not know but you know: the marginalized teenager at the high school; the new immigrant family in town; the lonely widower in the most poorly run nursing home in our area; the needy, unwed mother in this county. Grant to these persons the grace and courage they need to deal with their situations. Inspire your Church to reach out to them in Christian compassion, bringing each of them the possibility of a brighter future. In Jesus’ name. Amen.