a homily for Proper 5C
Text: Luke 7:11-17
Listen to “Being Shown What To Do” here and read along
On Wednesday night (at Basics), we talked about ministry. What it is, who does it, and why it matters. The Book of Common Prayer describes it as the work of the laity, bishops, priests, and deacons. Notice that the laity go first. This is intentional. For ministry is our work as Christians. Our work in baptism. Our work together. We are all the ministers of this church. We all know this. I’m just reminding us.
We’re currently in Year C: Luke’s year: and we’re in the season after Pentecost: also known as Ordinary Time. In the coming months we’ll be able to dig deeper into the Gospel we call Luke more intentionally—without the direction of the tent-post holidays to focus our attention in obvious ways.
This is the season we like because we get teachings and parables, healings and events. It isn’t the narrative of the Passion or cherry-picked passages chosen to give the season a certain feeling. In this way, we are more likely to hear the scripture anew—with fresh ears.
We can also get lazy and unfocused. We can see each week without context—even when we cover the narrative in order—from week to week. We get snippets. Sayings. Just sounds, really. Bits of ideas and suggestions that tend to disappear from our minds long before Friday.
What’s going on
Our gospel story today is early in the book, but right after, perhaps the most essential sequence of events in the entire Gospel of Luke.
Each of the gospels presents a unique vision of ministry. This one has Jesus call his disciples in chapter 5 and begin healing. Jesus goes, gathers His followers, and then does.
Chapter 6 begins with conflict over the Sabbath—which deals with Sabbath observance codes and ministry—and then Jesus names from his disciples 12 apostles. This doesn’t occur after Jesus’s death, but long before it. He names who will succeed Him early on, before they’ve done much of anything.
Then they have the big moment. It is called the Sermon on the Plain, which is like Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. Each is the central teaching moment of these two gospels. In both, Jesus spells out what it means to minister: to do the very work of GOD.
It’ll take humility, compassion, and listening. You know, the stuff we don’t actually want to do. And woe to those that don’t act this way.
They then go into town and run into the Centurion’s people, who we met last week. They move on and come to the town of Nain, in which Jesus brings the widow’s son back from the dead.
I’ve given us the back story to this reading because today’s reading is useless without it. We would get the wrong message from it and the wrong impression of Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t come to raise sons from the dead simply because their mothers grieve. There are far too many grieving mothers in our own world for that to be the case. Besides, it isn’t even about the son.
It’s the mother. Without her husband or any of his brothers to protect her legal status, the responsibility falls to her son. In his death, this widow lacks protection.
It is fitting that this occurs along the funeral procession, outside the city, because she no longer is protected—no arms, no walls—she is open. And Jesus feels her pain. All of it. Not just the grief, but also the fear. In giving her back her son, he restores her. He brings her back from certain death.
He does this in front of his newly named apostles. Not merely disciples following Jesus, but apostles, called to learn how to do this; who have been given ministry. Here is the ministry we do. We restore life.
What we do
At the end of chapter 6, Jesus says:
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them.
Jesus could easily be talking about the Centurion, I suppose. Perhaps also the dead son, told to rise and he does and then speaks. Or any number of outsiders that come, hear, then go and do who appear throughout the gospel.
Or it could be us.
That we have been shown “what someone is like who comes to [Jesus], hears [His] words, and acts on them.” That we, today’s apostles, named by Jesus to do ministry in the world, are witnesses to those who do ministry in our midst. And in those examples, we see the very case of GOD’s great transformative grace.
When we listen and we feel and we act.
Unwilling to watch a woman disappear into the gutter, disappear from our sight, our minds, our hearts, or our community.
Or we step forward, bringing to Jesus the needs of the hurt and grieving and fearful and in one voice ask audaciously for them.
This is what Jesus tells us to do and why He shows us how.