2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1; Luke 7:11-16
Many people struggle today to have hope. The deep problems of our society and world, as well those of our own families and personal lives, can easily overwhelm our trust that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28) Even as the Bible is painfully honest about the failings and imperfections of the people through whom God worked across the generations to bring salvation to the world, we must not allow our own failings and imperfections—or those of anyone else—to destroy our hope that the same Lord Who conquered death will accomplish His gracious purposes for us, our loved ones, and the creation itself. We must confess with St. Paul that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39)
As we read in today’s gospel text, the widow of Nain had experienced the worst day of her life and had no reason to hope for a blessed future, for in that time and place a widow who had lost her only son was in a very precarious state. Poverty, neglect, and abuse would threaten her daily, for she would have been vulnerable and alone. When contrary to all expectations the Lord raised her son, He transformed her deep mourning into great joy. He restored life both to the young man and to his mother. The Lord’s great act of compassion for this woman manifests our salvation and provides a sign of hope in even the darkest moments of our lives.
In our world of corruption there is inevitably much hatred, violence, and loss, as well as very little spiritual and moral integrity. We weep and mourn not only for loved ones whom we see no more, but also for the brokenness and disintegration that we know all too well. Death, destruction, and decay in all their forms are the consequences of our personal and collective refusal to fulfill our vocation to live as those created in the image of God by becoming like Him in holiness. As all have throughout human history, we weep with the widow of Nain not only for losing loved ones, but also for losing what it means to be a human person as a living icon of God.
The good news of the Gospel is that the compassion of the Lord extends even to the most miserable human being and the most profound sorrows of our lives. Rather than merely observing human suffering and letting us bear the consequences of our actions, the Father sent the Son to heal and liberate us from slavery to the fear of death through His glorious resurrection. The Savior touched the funeral bier and the dead man arose. Christ’s compassion for us is so profound that He not only touched death, but entered fully into it, into a tomb, and into Hades, because—purely out of love for humankind—He refused to leave us to self-destruction. He rose victorious over death in all its forms and manifestations, and thus provided the only true foundation of hope that the abyss of the grave will not have the last word.
Death is not only a physical reality, but also a spiritual one. The contrast between the glorious eternal life of our Lord and the corruption that we welcome into our souls is stark, to put it mildly. When St. Paul addressed the Gentile Christians of Corinth as “the temple of the living God,” he did something seemingly absurd. As his letters to the Corinthians make clear, they were converts from paganism who were falling back into their old ways of living concerning everything from worshiping false gods to engaging in gross sexual immorality. Not only were they Gentiles, they embodied the corrupt behaviors that the Jews associated with the perversions of those who were strangers and foreigners to the people of God.
The Old Testament repeatedly warned the Jews to have nothing to do with Gentiles. That is why St. Paul quotes Hebrew prophets admonishing the Jews to be entirely separate from the corrupt ways of other peoples. What is so unexpected is that he now applies that instruction to the Gentile Christians of Corinth. Those who were despised for their immorality and paganism are now themselves “the temple of the living God” in Jesus Christ. They are now God’s people, His sons and daughters, to whom the promises of Abraham have been extended through faith. Because of this great dignity, St. Paul tells them to be clean “from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God.”
No matter how debauched the Corinthians had been before becoming Christians, and no matter how gravely they had sinned since their baptism, the Apostle urges them to remember who they are in Jesus Christ and to live accordingly. He calls them to refuse to define themselves by their sins, past or present. The point is not how they have fallen short or what particular temptations they face. The point is to accept in humility who they are by the grace of God and no longer to give any place to corruption in their lives. Whatever does not belong in God’s holy temple does not belong in them, for their bodies are now temples of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul calls them to live according to the high calling and dignity that are theirs in Jesus Christ, not according to whatever sins have enslaved them in the past or still threaten to distract them from offering every dimension of their lives to the Lord for healing, blessing, and fulfillment.
We may think that those Corinthian converts somehow had it easier than we do, for they lived in a world in which it was obvious who the false gods were. The ways of the pagan culture were diametrically opposed to those of the Church in many ways. But as the problems St. Paul had to address in Corinth indicate, there was actually nothing easy at all about being a Christian in a time and place where baptism demanded a complete change of life and constant vigilance against falling away. As a clear-eyed look at our society and ourselves indicates, we are in the same spiritual situation as they were. The false gods of power, possessions, and pleasure rule our world today just as they did in the first century. If we allow them to take root in our hearts, they will keep us from living with integrity as members of Christ’s Body. Like the Corinthians, we easily fall prey to the temptation of being Christians in name only whose daily lives are indistinguishable from those who are honest about their devotion to other gods. Though few in our society worship in explicitly pagan temples, so much encourages us to place our trust in nations, economies, technological advances, and factions of various kinds. Unless we are truly vigilant, we can easily give ourselves to the service of false gods without even recognizing what we are doing.
Let us look to the Savior’s raising of the son of the widow of Nain as a sign that we must entrust ourselves only to the One Who has conquered the grave, for slavery to the fear of death is the reason that it is so appealing to entrust ourselves to false gods as a distraction from facing the truth about ourselves and our world. They can certainly distract us, but they cannot heal the soul and make us like God in holiness. Despite our constant temptation to embrace corruption, we remain “the temple of the living God” by His grace. The same Lord Who turned the widow’s mourning into joy will do the same for us as we mindfully “cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God.” That is really the only way to keep ourselves from worshiping false gods and to enter into the great salvation that Christ has brought to the world. He alone is our true hope.
Thank you, Father, for reminding us to look only at Christ! During election seasons, it seems to me that all sides claim to be our “saviors” from worldly issues. I prefer to focus on Christ and His promises than worldly leaders.
Amen! We all need to stay focused squarely on Him.
I’ve always found this miracle the most moving in all of the Gospels. It seems as the account plays out that this was not planned. It feels like spontaneous love and compassion. Knowing Christ to be spontaneously compassionate, considerate, and conquering commends Himself to me, regardless of whatever is lacking in using the word spontaneous.
ἐπισκέπτομαι, is this the “visitation” that we pray for in the liturgy? I think I made a connection I hadn’t before. The English visit/come doesn’t help you see the connection to αὐτός λαός.
Thank you for your comment. I sense that you are making an insightful connection between Christ’s transformative visitation in this passage and what we pray for and experience in the Divine Liturgy.