The Gospel of the Day – 2016.06.05
Miracles and Magic and Raising the Dead
Jesus went to a town called Nain, accompanied by his disciples and a great number of people. When he was near the gate of the town it happened that a dead man was being carried out for burial, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a considerable number of the townspeople were with her. When the Lord saw her he felt sorry for her. ‘Do not cry’ he said. Then he went up and put his hand on the bier and the bearers stood still, and he said, ‘Young man, I tell you to get up.’ And the dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Everyone was filled with awe and praised God saying, ‘A great prophet has appeared among us; God has visited his people.’ And this opinion of him spread throughout Judaea and all over the countryside.
What is Prophecy?
What is the message that the authors of Luke’s Gospel are giving us; that magic and miracle making, that wonder working and acts of power are equivalent, perhaps greater than works of the prophets of old.
None of the authors of Luke’s Gospel ever met Jesus. At least half a century had passed from the time of Jesus’ death, to the time that Luke’s Gospel was written. By the time this Gospel was written; Palestine (Judea and Samaria) were completely under Roman rule, Jerusalem had been ruined, the temple destroyed, and the population scattered across the Empire in the second great Diaspora.
There were no witnesses to the events Luke describes; the raising of the widow’s son. No one to give the story of the reaction of the crowd. The story itself is a fabrication, it is a myth, it never happened, but it became a part of the tradition and was handed down as evidence that Jesus had both great compassion and great power.
There is little insight to be gained from this reading regarding the teachings of Jesus. Let me suggest this, the raising of the dead man at Nain, was not a physical miracle, it was the assertion of the notion that widow should not be left alone, with no husband, and no son to protect her. The resurrection of the widow’s son is a metaphor not a miracle, it means that in place of the woman’s son, the Church will not step up. The church will pick up the familial obligations for the woman, to protect her and keep her in life.
This is the role of the church, as a guardian of the meek, as a caretaker. This is a miracle, because it is in contradistinction to the common way of life, which would have forced the widow out into the margins of society.
God does not violate the laws of nature; not once, not ever. If we are going to accept this story as a part of the Gospel we must find a way of reading it that rules out the supernatural. Because there is no such thing as magic.
Now listen, this reading does just that. It is not that the widow’s son died, and returned to life. It is that Jesus appointed the church to care for the widow, in place of her dead son; this keeps her in life, and this is what puts Jesus directly in the tradition of the prophets, not the miracle making, the wonder working, the acts of power, and the magic, because these are fantasies. It is his work as an advocate for Justice, for community, and compassion that make him into powerful prophet that he was.
9th Sunday in Ordinary Time