Sybil 2002

Gospel text

Luke 7: 11-17

11 This is what happened when Jesus journeyed to a city named Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd walked with him. 12 And as he drew near to the gate of the city, behold, the dead body of the only begotten of a widow mother was brought to the ground, accompanied by a great multitude from the city. 13 When he saw her, the Lord was moved to the bowels and said to her, "Stop crying." 14 And when he came near, he touched the litter. The bearers stopped then. He said, "Young man, I tell you, wake up!" And the dead man sat up and began to speak. Jesus then gave him to his mother. 16 And everyone was upset, and one was recognizing the extraordinary quality of God's being with these words, "A great prophet has risen up among us, and God has visited his people". 17 This news about him spread throughout Judea and all around.


How far can we go when we let our heart speak?

Gospel commentary - Homily

Who is the greatest? The great mind, or the compassionate heart?

I was 7 years old. My friend's name was Claude. At lunch break and at the end of class in the afternoon, we often met together. For a reason I do not know, I used to want to express my superiority, in particular my physical superiority. One day, when we were bickering and I was trying to aggressively get the best of him, a group of high school students, taller than us, passed by chance, and one of them seeing that I had the upper hand, hit me on the head with a stack of books. Here I am crying. But, to my surprise, Claude, whom I had just tried to humiliate, turned to me, moved to ask me: "Are you in pain?" I was blown. How could he have an ounce of compassion after what I had done to him? Since that day, I have never raised my hand again.

At first glance, everyone has good words for compassion-related feelings until they come into conflict with some of our deepest urges. Recently, my wife and I were eating with a couple of old friends. He, as usual, spoiled me by all those books he read and I enjoyed this clever discussion; I always feel like I'm learning something. Unfortunately, his wife has been in the world of senility for some time; she tried to intervene in our conversations, but it was out of place. I paid polite attention, but I hastened to restore the logical thread with what her husband had said; to be honest, these interruptions annoyed me and embarrassed me. On the contrary, my wife has agreed to enter the world of this senile woman with consummate art. Once our guests left, I had to make a sad realization: my real difficulty was to accept human life with all its hazards, including the loss of capacity, especially brain capacity. And the only way to do that is to surrender to compassion.

Today's Gospel has helped me change my perspective. Some will say to themselves: but how can a story of resuscitation of a young man have such an impact? Precisely, is the point of the story of Luke really about the resuscitation of a young man? Let's take a closer look.

The story begins as Jesus walks, accompanied by the disciples and a crowd of people. We know that to be a Christian is to walk with Jesus. This detail of Luke should from the beginning warn us that Jesus is about to teach us. What is this teaching? We know the scene well: the dead body of the only son of a widow is brought to the ground. The evangelist then tells us: Jesus is moved to the bowels, i.e. deeply moved to the point where his bowels hurt him. The Greek verb splanchnizomai refers to a strong sense of compassion where one is heartbroken in front of a situation. Luke uses this verb only on two other occasions: the good Samaritan is moved to the bowels when he sees the man wounded and left almost dead on the road (10, 33); the father of the prodigal son is moved to the bowels when he sees his son coming from afar, and throws himself on his neck (15:20).

How to explain Jesus' emotional reaction to a dead child he does not know? In fact, the center of the story is not the child, but the widow. It should be known that at the time, the only source of income for a woman could come only from a man, and for a widow, only from his son. As the dead child was his only son, it is total indigence that awaits her. This is what Jesus understands, that moves him to the very heart.

But the story does not end here. Jesus takes the trouble to touch the stretcher, to immerse himself in the situation. What follows is not a magic gesture, Jesus does not say, "Abracadabra, one, two, three, hey you alive!" No. He challenges the young man with authority: "Young man, I tell you, wake up!" The emotions of Jesus bring him, as it were, to a vigorous gesture, that of reminding the young man of his role vis-à-vis his mother. This is so true that in the next verse we reach the climax of the story, when Jesus hands the son over to his mother. In a way, we could say that we do not have here a miracle story, but rather a story of compassion.

However, as one would expect from an evangelist, it is not a story with a little morality. It is more than that. When one looks closely at this account which is unique to Luke, one sees that he had in mind the story of the prophet Elijah who restored to life the son of the widow of Sarepta (1 Kings 17: 10-24), so much so that he copies the expression as it is: "He then gave it to his mother". For Luke, Jesus is the new Elijah, the prophet we were hoping for again, a sign of the presence and intervention of God. Let us not forget that a few verses later, Jesus will have to answer to the messengers of John the Baptist wondering if he is the messiah. What will Jesus answer? People are healed, the dead are found alive again, the good news is announced to the poor. This is the face of the messiah. This is the face of God who sends a messiah who is like him. This is what people understood when they say, "God has visited his people".

You now understand why today's Gospel has changed my outlook: it's beautiful to be brilliant or strong, it's even better to be compassionate. Because it is the very face of Jesus, it is the face of God. So there is something wrong about talking about an almighty God, which further skews the issue of suffering in the world. Is it not better to insist on this heart moved to the bowels, ie deeply moved. This can be our starting point for a vigorous action where we say: "stop crying".


-André Gilbert, Gatineau, May 2016