A great prophet has risen among us!

Fr Alec
Sunday, June 9, 2013 - 9:30am

Each of us has times in our life when we come to see the world differently. For many it is becoming a parent, when we come to view the world through our child’s eyes, and see how it will come to affect them in different ways. Falling in love can also affect the way we see the world- We may have sneered at all the clichés before, but now all the soppy love-songs seem to ring true, and the birds really do seem to be tweeting that much more cheerfully.

For me, one of the big turning points in my life was the year I spent travelling in India after university. As gap years go, it was pretty self-indulgent: There was no aid project, or teaching involved, no missionary work, just me and my best friend Peter travelling about through a series of adventures and mishaps.

Nevertheless, by the time I returned home, I found that I had changed: Getting around India on a shoestring had made it impossible to ignore the official corruption that was everywhere, the cruel inequalities of the caste system, and most of all the poverty that confronts you on every street corner. It is one thing to know that these things exist, but another to live with them day to day.  It is a society where there is no safety net. There is precious little in the way of welfare, and if misfortune strikes, you are thrown onto the charity of those around you. It is sickening to see how blind the wealthy are to the poor who live all around them, and sobering to feel how blind one becomes oneself.

The penny dropped during my time there, that my good fortune was the exception rather than the rule. That for most human beings living on the planet, life was a much more painful and precarious business, and that we belong to the fortunate ten percent. If a third of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day, I can never call myself poor.

Now it is common when we are young to go through a very idealistic phase, and to struggle and rage against the injustice of the world, but by the time we grow up, when we have our own income, our own responsibilities, we very often nod sagely, and conclude that the world is more complicated than we used to think. We might pop a few quid in the collecting tin, but essentially, we don’t feel we can change the world.

What if that is wrong? What if our youthful selves, who had nothing to lose were right? What if we really can change the world?

One of the fascinating things about Jesus is how local his ministry was. Unlike St Paul, he didn’t travel all over the known world. Rather he remained in and around Judea. Likewise, though he preached to crowds, the stories that come down to us in the gospels of his miracles are intimate and personal- concerned with individuals with particular problems.

Take our gospel for today. Jesus reaches out and touches the bier on which the widow’s son is being carried, and the man is restored to life. Imagine that you were there. Or, rather, imagine that it was happening here to someone whom you have known and loved. Imagine the bottomless grief of the poor widow as she takes her son for burial. Imagine it compounded by the fact that she is plunged into penury now that the only wage-earner has gone. And imagine, as Jesus reaches out his hand, and the young man stirs into life, what that must mean- what a change, what a reversal in all her hopes and feelings and thoughts. In one action, the life of a family is transformed. There is a revolution.

Now the word translated here as bier- the thing on which the son is carried, means something rather more like plank. The son was being hastily taken away for burial, and Jesus’ reaching out his hand is a costly act. A dead body for the Jews of Jesus’ time was ritually unclean, and he risked defilement. He was going against the taboos of his culture to restore the boy to life.

This rising from the dead inevitably foreshadows Jesus own resurrection. In this one act we are already invited to challenge the limits of what we think is possible. Though we are not dead we may be living as if we were. We may be denied life in all its fullness through poverty, or abuse, or lies. We might be trapped in harmful of abusive relationships, or addiction. We may have closed our eyes and ears to the world around us, and bought into the myth that we must look first and foremost after our own interests. We need to know, and to be told again and again that things can change.

We see the same transformation in Paul’s account of his conversion to the Galatians:

‘The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.’

God calls us out of our comfort zone and opens our eyes to a new reality. We can no longer accept the boundaries of what is thought appropriate, or what we thought was possible. God has other plans. If the world is to be changed, then first we must ourselves change.

We are wrong if we think that we cannot change the world, because with God anything is possible. The question is, are we prepared to try to change the world? Will we allow God to work through us? To transform us.

Though the scale of human misery may seem impossibly vast, we have Christ for our example, responding one individual at a time.