Saturday 8 June 2013

Young man, I say to you, arise!

The gospel of the coming Sunday is Lk 7:11-17, Jesus raising the son of the widow of Nain. Rossi de Gasperis calls this a jewel of Lucan composition. I was struck, for the first time, by the phrase, "the only son of his mother, and she was a widow." (Lk 7:12) Jesus is also the only son of his mother, and she was a widow by the time he began his public life, I suppose. So this episode makes almost direct allusion to Jesus, and the raising of the son to the Rising of Jesus.

Nain: not far from Shunem, modern Sulam. The village not only of Abishag, the beautiful Shunemite who was called to keep David warm in his old age, but also scene of the raising of a widow's son by the prophet Elisha, which itself recalls the raising of the son of the widow of Zarepta by the prophet Elijah. "Fear seized them all; and they glorified God, saying, 'A great prophet has arisen among us!'" (Lk 7:16) Jesus is the Prophet who is to Come.

And also "'God has visited his people!'" (Lk 7:16) An almost deliberate allusion to the Canticle of Zechariah at the beginning of the gospel of Luke, which speaks about God visiting his people like the dawn from on high, come il sole che sorge. Jesus, the visit of God. Rossi de Gasperis says the Greek word used is related to episkopos, bishop. The bishop is the one who visits the church, in the name of the the Lord, a visit of love and of compassion to his people. Beautiful.

And the visit is a visit of compassion: Jesus touches the bier (Lk 7:14), overcoming all barriers of legal impurity. And he is moved with compassion: "And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, 'Do not weep.'" (Lk 7:13) You are moved with compassion for us, O Lord, and we are moved by your compassion. And you say to us, mired as we often are in bogs of our own making: "Do not weep! I am here. All will be well." All will be well: the words of a mother to her child who has awoken in the night, and is fearful. Sign of transcendence (Peter Berger): if there is no God, if in the end the world is a useless breath without meaning (Nietzsche), this is ultimately false, the mother is telling a Great Lie.

And to the young man: "Young man, I say to you, arise." What better words for a Salesian? Young man, I say to you, arise. Words that could very well be our new motto, as we approach the Bicentenary of the birth of that extraordinary young man, Johnny Bosco. Da mihi animas, cetera tolle, translated into Young man, I say to you, arise! Let us be going! It is enough! We have things to do! Do not tarry along the byways of the world. The episode of the raising of a young woman follows soon after in the gospel of Luke: in chapter 8, we have the raising of the daughter of Jairus (Lk 8:40-56). And then, soon, the episode of the Transfiguration, that brilliant anticipation of the Resurrection, the Resurrection that reaches backward and transfigures the humanity of Jesus (Lk 9:28-36). 

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