08 June 2013

Miraculously strange, indeed. . .

10th Sunday OT 2013 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
 St. Dominic Church, NOLA 

Writing against the heresies of the Gnostic, Marcion in the second century, Tertullian uses Jesus' miraculous resuscitation of the widow's son to a make a point about Christ's relationship with his Father. On the way to making his point, Tertullian quickly summarizes the scene from Luke and notes, almost offhandedly, “This was not a strange miracle." Not a strange miracle? Did I miss something? Luke is reporting that Jesus returns a dead man back to life, right? Out of compassion for a widow whose only son has died, Jesus touches the dead man's coffin, and says, “Young man, I tell you, arise!” And he does. Tertullian tells us that it is not strange that a dead man rises from his coffin? Nothing unusual about that at all. Tertullian and I have very different definitions of the word “strange.” To be fair to Tertullian, he's making a larger point by using this miracle. His larger point is that the revival of the widow's dead son is not at all strange when viewed in the longer history of miracles. He asks, if God's prophets can perform miracles of such magnitude, why not His Son? Especially when the miracle bears the burden of revelation: “. . .they glorified God, exclaiming. . .'God has visited his people.'” And God still visits His People. 

Just a day or two before reviving the widow's son, Jesus had healed the centurion's servant. In both cases, Jesus showed compassion and exercised great power. In both cases, his interventions gave witness to his ministry and glory to God. And in both cases, news of his words and deeds spread like wildfire over Judea. But there is one interesting difference btw the two events. In the case of the centurion's servant, Jesus acts on a request for healing. No such request is made in the case of the widow's son. What's interesting is that the power and glory of God are revealed in both cases, whether those most directly involved in the miracle ask for God's help or not. Where Christ goes—preaching, teaching, healing—so goes the most exacting revelation of God possible. The truth of that revelation—God's Self-revelation—is not contingent upon the need, the desire, the faith, or the belief of those to whom He reveals Himself. To those with eyes to see and ears to hear, He is uncovered, unveiled, and all there is to do is give thanks and praise! For others, strangeness abounds when a miracle occurs and there is nothing to do but seek a non-miraculous explanation. 

Let's ask a somewhat difficult question: do we need a strange miracle to occur before we can say with the utmost confidence: “God has visited His people!”? Do we need a man several days dead revived? Do we need a sick servant healed from a distance? If so, if you need a strange miracle to believe, ask yourself why. Why do I need such thing? And consider: God visits His people daily in the Eucharist. In the breaking of the bread, a great prophet rises among the people. God's mercy; His healing touch; His cleansing spirit; all the gifts necessary to come to Him in the perfection of His Christ. . .all freely available right here in His Church. Think of them as miracles. . .strange little miracles, if you want. Regardless, strange or not, miracles or not, in the Eucharist, all of the sacraments, Christ touches you and says to you, “Arise!” Arise from death. Arise from sin. Arise from disease, doubt, distress, worry. Arise, speak, bear witness, and be yourself a revelation of God the Most High! What else is there for any of us to do but arise and bear witness; arise and give testimony to the miracle of our salvation; arise and speak out for the glory of God that we are no longer slaves to sin but free men and women burdened by nothing and no one but the surpassing love of God and the inheritance we have received through His Son? 

Is our salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus a strange miracle? Yes and no. Given what little we know about the nature of God—that He is Love—and given what we know about His Christ—that he is fully human and fully divine—and given what we know about the nature of creation—that all of it, us included, participates in the divine life—then, no, it would seem that God's love for us is not miraculous at all. That He would condescend to send His Son among us to save us through sacrificial love seems like the perfectly natural act of a loving Father, not miraculous at all. But then we consider how we look upon creation: how we are tempted to explain the objects and processes of nature w/o reference to our Creator; how we work so hard to acquire things and dominate people outside the laws of charity; how we torture truth, desecrate beauty, and defile goodness, then: Yes! indeed, our salvation is a strange miracle, with emphasis on strange. Through all of the messes we make that we come to accept and receive God's grace and find ourselves lifted up to and adopted into the holy family, yes, that's strange indeed. Miraculously strange. 

“Young man, I tell you, arise!” The dead man sits up and begins to speak. Jesus gives him back to his mother. “Fear seized [the crowd], and they glorified God, exclaiming, 'A great prophet has arisen in our midst,' and 'God has visited his people.'” Through their fear and amazement, the witnesses to this strange miracle recognize the work of the Most High. Through their awestruck fear, they give glory to God, and proclaim the news that God has visited His people. He still visits His people. He still reveals Himself through His Word, His Christ, and His creation. The truths He reveals are not contingent upon the need, the desire, the faith, or the belief of those to whom He reveals Himself. Do we need strange miracles to see His truth? Do you wait for some strange sign to believe? That's not the faith we share. We believe on the witness of Christ's apostles and the witness of his Church. We believe on the evidence of reason rightly revealed as a divine gift. We believe b/c we know who we were before Christ; who we would be w/o Christ, and all that we can be with Christ and him alone. Arise from death. Arise from disobedience. Arise from weakness, uncertainty, pain, and trouble. Arise. Speak. Bear witness. And be yourself a revelation of God the Most High!

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  1. OK, ready? First para. annoyed me - I thought the back and forth could have been left out, and the paragraph tightened up and focused a little better. I wasn't entirely convinced by the 2nd paragraph. I did like the "...is not contingent upon...." section, but wasn't certain the paragraph in its entirety belonged.

    THEN, things started getting good! I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the homily, and liked the strength of the end. "He still...He still...He still..." and "We believe...We believe...We believe...." Great way to build up to the end, and "Arise!". Motivation and encouragement - which made up for the minor annoyance at the start.

    Thank you!

    1. Patience, my dear, is a virtue. Or, so I am told. :-)

    2. Yes, I've heard that, too.

      The beginning was better the second time I heard it. Must be one of those "Finding Nemo" kind of homilies. ;-)