Memorial of Saint John Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Lectionary: 444


As he drew near to the gate of the city,
a man who had died was being carried out,
the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.

Do you suppose Jesus saw his own mother in the woman of Nain? First he saw the silent crowd pouring through the city gate. Then he saw the men carrying the bier with the body of a young man. Finally he saw the woman. No one walked with her, no one supported her arm. In a flash he realized she was a widow with no other children; and his heart was moved with pity.

Young men cannot understand how much their mothers have invested in them. Ready to take flight, to conquer the world, their sights are turned outward. They go off to school or the military; they go out to find work and women and adventure. They hardly take a moment to remember the women who were always there, who made habitual sacrifice for their sons.  They might be distracted for a moment by their complaints but they can hardly be bothered.

Jesus had set out from Nazareth. He surely had his mother’s blessing as he went first to the Jordan River and then into the wilderness. He never looked back. Suddenly impelled by the Holy Spirit he was immediately caught up in his “father’s business,” announcing the kingdom of God by word and deed. Always there were enemies closing upon him, on the edge of the crowd, listening, taking notes, collecting evidence, waiting their moment.

Seeing the young man he saw himself; seeing the widow he remembered his mother and his heart was moved with pity.

I meet these men, some not so young, who have forgotten their mothers. They went off to war and came home changed. Their mothers could hardly recognize them. Nor can they remember much of what happened before they entered the kill zone. In many cases they started using drugs – alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines – to suppress the memories of war. But the drugs suppressed all memories, good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant. Every memory became unbearable, even that of their mothers.

The church has always and often insisted that God needed a mother to become human. There can be no Jesus without Mary. Perhaps he also needed that widow of Nain to remember his mother and the sacrifice she was making. He cannot be our savior unless he shows compassion to the women who give him life.

He said to her, “Do not weep.” He stepped forward and touched the coffin; at this the bearers halted, and he said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.

As he leaves the tomb Jesus calls out to you and me, “I tell you arise!” We hear his voice and leap from the coffin of guilt, shame and remorse to be restored to our families, friends, neighbors and church.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.