TENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (C)
Our Catholic faith is rich with signs and symbols. To everything we see in our liturgy, we read in the scriptures, and that is taught in our catechesis there is a deeper meaning. Our lives are filled with signs of a deeper meaning and richness, if we have the eyes to see them.
Today we hear a reading from 1 Kings where the prophet Elijah heals the son of a widow of a great illness, through his faith in God. Our gospel reading from Luke this morning is an obvious parallel. Jesus does more than heal the son of a widow -- He raises the widow's son from the dead, causing the widow to proclaim, "A great prophet has arisen in our midst."
In the first reading, the miracle Elijah performed served as a sign of his status as one of God's prophets. The widow tells him, after her son is healed through Elijah's prayer, "Now indeed I know that you are a man of God." Jesus' miracle also served as a sign. It reminds us of the miracle of Elijah, and so tells us that Jesus, like Elijah, is a man of God. But where Elijah healed a sick man, Jesus shows us that he is the ultimate healer by bringing a man back from the dead. More than the power to heal, Jesus has the power to give life.
As one who has power over life and death Christ is signaling to us that He is more than a mere "holy man." He is the creator of life itself. This would be confirmed in the greatest of His miracles, His own Resurrection and victory over death.
Some may ask if Jesus really did conquer death, and have the power to heal and even bring the dead back to life, then why didn't He heal all of humanity? Why do people still get sick? Why do people still die?
Death is a great reality. None of us can escape it. We must all deal with it in our own lives, when we lose friends and family. And eventually we all must face our own death. So how can we say Jesus conquered death?
In truth, Jesus did not raise every dead man He saw, no more than He healed every blind man or leper He came across. He only chose a few. Why? Because these few are signs and symbols. They point to a greater reality.
Eternal life in this world is unattainable and would be a curse if it were possible. No one expects to live forever except for a handful of kooks who think by taking the right combination of vitamins, or merging their consciousness into a supercomputer they can achieve immortality. These scenarios are the provenance of science fiction, not the real world. And in science fiction stories, it never ends well. The supercomputer with human intellect invariably seeks to dominate us lesser mortals. In Gulliver's Travels, the explorer finds a land where the inhabitants live forever in their physical bodies, which have aged beyond human recognition. For them eternal life is hell.
We cannot live forever in this world. Even the man Jesus brought back from the dead in today's gospel is no longer with us. He died again, and this time there was no resurrection. At least not yet...
For this is what the miracles of Jesus, including his own Resurrection from the tomb which we commemorate every Sunday, are meant to tell us. Death is not the end. There will be a resurrection of the dead. But not in this world. For this world is fallen. It simply cannot hold all the glory that is to come. For this we need a new creation -- a new heaven and a new earth. And this is what Jesus has promised.
Pope Paul VI says, "We believe that the souls of all who die in Christ's grace... are the People of God beyond death. On the day of resurrection, death will be definitively conquered, when these souls will be reunited with their bodies" (qtd. in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1052).
This new creation is described for us in the Scriptures. God will make His dwelling among men. "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away" (Rev. 21:4).
Our current world, fallen and troubled as it is, is a sign of this new world to come. All the good and joyful things about our existence in this life are but shadows of the glory of our life in eternity. Enjoy them in this life when you can, and enjoy them all the more for you know they are mere teasers for the happiness of the new earth.