Elijah, the famous and fiery Old Testament prophet that challenged the worship of Baal. According to the story 1 Kgs 17:17-24
Elijah enters a widow’s house and at the precise time of his entry, her son falls ill and dies. The woman questions Elijah’s reason for visiting, and not in a positive way. No surprise there! She wonders why Elijah came, and suspects he is the reason for her misfortune. Cut to the chase. Elijah prays to the God of Israel, and the boy regains his life. Through that action, the woman recognizes the prophet as a man of God.
In the city of Nain, Jesus is in a similar experience. Through His action of raising another widower’s only son from the dead, Jesus is recognized by the people as a great prophet. In that gospel story 1 Kgs 17:17-24
the details deserve some mention. For one the event takes place at a gate. The crowd of mourners approach from one side of the gate, Jesus and His disciples approach from the other. Is it possible to ignore the transition, the exit of the old and the entry of the new? Death exits and life enters. At the gate both collide. The woman did not ask for Jesus’s help, and she likely did not know who He was. She never ventured beyond the gate, Jesus entered her life. His reason for raising her son was pity, and mercy. What again is the reason of the Nativity? Why did God become man, was it not for the same reason? Why did Christ die on the cross, was it not so that we might have life? The gospel story not only mirrors the story of Elijah, it reminisces on Christ’s own death and resurrection.
Another small point worthy of notice is how Jesus commands the boy to rise. There is no request from the mother, He simply tells her to stop weeping. He then touches the coffin and commands the boy to rise. There is no lengthy dialogue, he brings the widowers son to life “out of pity.” That is His mission, plain and simple. The details give reason for the woman’s mourning, and there were many. Jesus’s reason though was summed up in one word, pity. Why was that woman weeping, certainly that is common at funerals, but there are a few details that added to her tears. She was burying her son, painful and agonizing without a doubt. This though was her only son, and she was a widower. Her tears are magnified, if one can believe that possible. Without husband and son her life takes a dramatic change. Gone is income and in that society she becomes an outcast. Her tears, for her son and for her future. There are tears for the loss of a loved one, there is also anguish from the constraints of a society. She lived within the culture of an old society, Jesus enters through a gate and a new testament begins. As Jesus enters that gate, the son is brought to life and those accompanying him are enlivened also. Jesus entered their life, and through his life giving actions they recognize “a great prophet.”
Enough with Jesus and Elijah, let’s turn to the women and the funeral crowd. How does the woman recognize Elijah as a prophet? How does the funeral party recognize Jesus as the same? The answer is plain as day, they both brought the dead to life. They are recognized through the result of their actions. The question then? How are Christians recognized today?
Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time