As Jesus was about to enter a city called Nain, a man who had died was being carried out through a city gate. He was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. Jesus, moved with compassion, touched the coffin, and said, “Young man, I tell you arise.” When the young man came back to life, Jesus gave him to his mother. All who witnessed the event glorified God, and exclaimed, “A great prophet has arisen in our midst,” and “God has visited his people.”
This brief gospel story is a literary gem with strong visual images, yet expressing the great universal truths which give unity to the entire biblical tradition of faith. (1) God visits his people from the first moment of their creation. Amazingly, God wants to be with us. (2) More good news is that God understands our fragile human condition, and responds with compassion. (3) God’s presence is personal and respectful of human freedom. The human response which God hopes for is a free decision of faith—the hospitality of welcome and gratitude for the divine visit. (4) God’s invisible presence becomes visible in our midst in Jesus, not only a great prophet, but the Son of God become flesh and blood, like us in everything except sin.
The compassion of the invisible God is revealed in the human compassion and life-giving action of Jesus. At the same time, we also see in Jesus the revelation of what God intends every human being to become, a particular image of divine, creative compassion. The entire biblical tradition is an expression of this two-fold revelation. The New Testament writings help us gain some insight into the depths of Jesus’ humanity by describing the faith of Jesus in various circumstances of his life, particularly in his final trial of faith. “In the days when he was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Hebrews 5:7).
From his childhood, Jesus learned those divinely inspired words of the Old Testament which describe the meaning of friendship with God in faith, hope, and love. “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Even in times of distress when God seems to be absent, faith means to hope with unconditional trust that divine love will ultimately prevail. Jesus experienced in his own faith those inspired prayers which he learned as a child and repeated so often in the synagogue. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1) “Into you hands I commend my spirit” (Psalm 31:6). The power of faith is invincible even in the face of a horrible death of Roman crucifixion.
Jesus is as much the principal character in the story of each of our lives as he was in the story of the widowed mother of Nain. In Catholic faith, we celebrate the Eucharist in which Jesus, now Risen Lord, is present and gives himself to us so completely that we share his human-divine life. The life-changing implication of this good news is captured in the words of Saint Paul: “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). For this supreme gift we glorify God, and with gratitude exclaim, “God has visited his people.”
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.