October 8 – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (3rd of Luke), Tone 1 Luke 7:11-16
Glory to the Lifegiver: Luke 7:11-16, especially vs. 16: “Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying . . . ‘God has visited His people.’” No matter what our culture and religion, all of us must face mortality, the universal human reality. As the Prophet Job writes, “For mortal man born of woman is short-lived and full of wrath. He falls like a flower that blooms, and like a shadow, he does not continue” (Job 14:1-2).
Today’s Gospel concerns a meeting between Christ and a dead man being taken to his grave. The Lord approaches the man’s mother as she travels with the funeral procession. Her circumstances are most poignant, for she is a widow. Bereft of her only son and all source of livelihood, sadness permeates her. Then Christ appears and changes everything.
Of this scene, Saint Cyril of Alexandria says, “But there meets him Christ, the Life and Resurrection, for He is the destroyer of death and of corruption; He it is ‘in whom we live and move and have our being’ (see Acts 17:28); He it is who has restored the nature of man to that which it originally was; and has set free our death-fraught flesh from the bonds of death” (Commentary on the Gospel of Saint Luke, p. 121).
This meeting disrupts the inevitability of death, for Life comes with compassion and triumphs over death. He gives us cause to glorify Him as Lifegiver. Being Jews, the people of Nain respond to the astounding turn of events in an appropriately Jewish manner: they perceive the Lord Jesus to be a great prophet through whom God has “visited His people” (Lk 7:16).
Traditionally, most Jews did not believe in the immortality of the soul. Undoubtedly, some at Nain believed in a general resurrection (Jn 11:24), but most shared the opinion of the son of Korah: “I am counted with them that go down to the pit; I am become as a man without help, free among the dead, like the bodies of the slain that sleep in the grave, whom Thou rememberest no more, and they are cut off from Thy hand” (Ps 87:4-5).
In other cultures that believe in the immortality of the soul, an awareness persists that physical end of life is not the entire story. In Asia, the great sages and practitioners of Buddhism and Hinduism believe that each soul travels through a succession of physical bodies, one after another, until it reaches full, irreversible enlightenment, leaving behind the illusory cycle of birth and death. Islam holds that righteous and worthy Muslims go to an eternal paradise after death. Shamanistic believers, including the followers of Shinto in Japan and many of the world’s tribal peoples, hold similar beliefs concerning the endurance of the soul beyond death.
Christ, the Wisdom of God, frees us from this longing for a life after death and also from its alternative: resignation in the face of final extinction. During the verses of Sunday Orthros, we recite the angel’s astonishing words to the Myrrhbearing women: “In that He is God, He is risen from the grave.”
Today’s reading likewise discloses this reality. “In that He is God,” He naturally resuscitates a corpse, for He has mastery over death and life. The revelation of a general resurrection that the Jews received from God is correct, but incomplete. Christ Jesus is “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” And what is more, in Him “all shall be made alive” (1 Cor 15:20, 22). Let us give glory to the Lifegiver Himself, seeking mercy from Him (Jn 5:26).
O Giver of life, glory to Thy Resurrection! Glory to Thy Kingdom! Glory to Thy providence, O Thou Who alone art the lover of mankind. – Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom