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10 June 2013

Jesus is Lord -- And Thus, We Show Pity

A rough version of the homily from Southie this week -- much like attempting to throw a slider, every homily comes out of my hand differently.

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“When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her.”  These words should hit us like lightning – because this was exactly the intention of Luke when he described Jesus in this manner.

“When the Lord saw her…”  Very often, we don’t pay attention to the titles of Jesus as he is described in the Gospel; they very often seem interchangeable, in much the same way, I’m alternately, “Matt,” “Matthew,” and “Jay,” to friends, or “Kid” and “Junior” to my dad. 

In the Gospels, we hear Jesus described as “Jesus,” “the Son of God,” “The Son of Man,” “the Lamb of God,” and “the Christ,” to name just a few.  But here, in using the term “Lord” to describe Jesus, Luke is making quite the loaded statement.  You see, to the Jews, “Lord” was shorthand for the unspeakable name of God.  And for the Gentiles who would have heard this term, their thoughts would turn to the only person in the Roman Empire who could be called this term: the Emperor himself.  Yet, up through this point in the Gospel, Luke has studiously not used the term.  Until now.  And after this, Luke uses it again and again, not putting it in the mouths of others, but as Luke refers to Jesus in his narrative.  Luke makes the point that while Jesus follows in the path of Moses, Elijah and King David, he is something much greater than that. 

Of course, those with Jesus will not understand this – others will go out of their way to refute the very idea: Jesus’ identification with God and as God will get him killed.   Yet from Luke’s vantage point, bathed in the glory of the Resurrection and in looking back at what Jesus is about to do, Luke realized that, in the eyes of all around him, Jesus was not – and is not! – A minor prophet and miracle worker but rather the Son of God – the Lord of the universe come down to dwell among us.

This, however, is not all.  In fact, if Jesus stays as he is, remains merely a God among people, then nothing has been accomplished.  The Lord is not someone content to move among His creation and heal a bit here and there – rather, fully human, he actually experiences just what we do. That is why the second part of the original sentence “When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity” is so important. 

The sole source of sustenance for the widow in biblical times would have been her only son.  Deprived now of both husband and son, this hapless widow would have moved to the brink of starvation.  With the death of her only son, her own hope for survival had received a mortal blow.  Jesus, seeing this, acts accordingly and decisively.  “Young man, I tell you, arise!” And the reason Jesus does this, is because he was moved with pity.  This is the exact same phrase used by Luke to describe the actions of the Good Samaritan as well as the Father who greets his once-lost son in the Story of the Prodigal.

And so, this Sunday’s Gospel message can be made very simply: if we want to imitate God, we must show pity to those in need of it, whether or not, by our human measures, they deserve it or not.  But how do we even get this process started?  We begin by confessing Jesus as God and freeing ourselves up against the many powers that would hold us down.  And as such, we are able to do the work of the Lord, to see the sick and the mourning, the dying and the aching, the depressed and passed over, and be moved with pity by them. 
I remember being assigned to the Shattuck Hospital when I first arrived in Boston three years ago.  There was a young man on one of the floors – not yet 18 – and brain damaged due to a botched medical procedure.  What struck me most, however, was not the great care provided by nurses or the devotion shown to him by his mother.  As impressive as that was, it was the care and concern provided for him by the other patients on the floor, all dealing with their own issues of addiction, regret and brokenness.  Yet, the entire floor rallied around him, taking turns playing board games with him and making sure that new patients on the floor knew that this young man was special to everyone there.  You see: we don’t need to be considered saints by any standard to show care and compassion.  All we need to do is realize what we ourselves need and then provide it to others.


We all know people in our parish – in our neighborhoods that are in straits: on their last financial, spiritual or emotional legs.  They are nursing their own wounds, perhaps recovering from a financial disaster, piecing back together a broken marriage or coping with the stigma of an addiction.  While we cannot raise these people from the dead, we can tell them to arise, showing them and being for them the present of the Risen Christ.  Today we have a two-fold challenge from the Scriptures: we begin as the witnesses, proclaiming that the Jesus is Lord, has arisen in our midst and will raise us all from daily deaths, as well as final death; as a result, we must continue our proclamation through the showing mercy, compassion and pity to those who need it whether they deserve it or not.  Let us approach this Eucharist to meet the Risen Christ once again.  And then, strengthened by Him – let’s get to work.

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