Scripture for this Sunday: 1 Kings 17:8-24 (Elijah gives sustenance to a widow in Sidon, and then restores her son’s life); Psalm 146; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17 (Jesus restores life to the son of the widow of Nain)
The question of refugees continues to challenge governments in Europe and beyond. The Canadian government has so far settled 25,000 Syrian refugees and expects as many again. The important point here is the language of “settlement,” implying that not only are lives to be saved, but that livelihood is to be considered.
Jesus would have understood and responded warmly to this. In raising the dead son of the widow of Nain, he not only restored life to the son, but he restored the livelihood of the widow, who would have been destitute otherwise. The same is true of the parallel restoration to life of a widow’s son by Elijah the prophet, many centuries earlier.
To heal the son, Jesus had to touch him, and risk rendering himself ritually unclean. This does not seem to have bothered him – in fact, rather than becoming unclean himself, he restored life and cleanness to the son.
All this comes about because of a deep feeling of “gut-wrenching” compassion on the part of Jesus. Compassion is rooted in the idea that we share common roots as humanity. This is supposed to guide us towards finding what we have in common, not how we differ.
Mohammed Ali, in refusing to serve in the Vietnam war, commented upon this: the Vietnamese were no less fellow humans than anyone else, downtrodden by occupation and war. If anything, this was about solidarity: he saw amongst his fellow African Americans the modern equivalent of those who were downtrodden in Christ’s time.
Since we come to church to profess ourselves to be followers of one who uplifted the downtrodden, can we in all integrity go out into the world and participate in perpetuating anything that subjugates the downtrodden?
Our self-determination, beyond the imagination of first century Palestinians, comes with a responsibility: to speak, and to serve. Mohammed Ali said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”
We, as the church, people who have been touched by Christ’s transforming power, have to respond to this challenge by setting ourselves among the downtrodden, to care about the vulnerable, to touch the untouchables, to participate in healing the sick and broken, to be a voice for compassion – and to be concerned not only with life, but with livelihood.