"A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!”
Not a magician or doctor. Not a wizard. A Prophet, in communion with God. Acting on God’s behalf. One whose Powers come directly from the Holy One.
They saw a man Who was moved by compassion and by the power that comes from God, the Creator, the All Mighty, to bring a widow’s son back to life. (Luke 7:11-16)
"God has visited us!!!" they cried. Of course, they were afraid. We might expect jubilation, cheers and applause... but no ...this is fear.
By his action Jesus reveals a power and presence beyond any human understanding. His action reaches back to the stories they’d heard from ancient of days.
Surely they knew about the prophet Elijah who raised the widow’s son, a widow who shared her last bit of grain and oil with him during a great drought. She cried out to Elijah in grief and anger, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”
Elijah took the boy upstairs, breathed on him, fell on the little body, and cried out to God. The son’s life was restored and Elijah returned him to his mother’s arms.
Surely, too, they’d heard about the prophet Elisha, Elijah’s acolyte, who called on God to grant a son to a woman who had shown him great hospitality and asked for nothing in return. When the boy was a child, he died in his mother’s arms and she called to Elisha in her grief.
“Did I ask you for a son, my lord?” she said. “Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t raise my hopes’?” Elisha took the boy away, lay his own body over the boy, cried out to God. He then returned the revived son to his mother’s arms.
These were stories from long ago, familiar but not ordinary, nothing we'd expect now from a person walking among us. Jesus did not know this woman. She did not challenge him. Yet Jesus acted from his compassion. He touched the bier and that was enough. Here was a prophet who spoke to the dead man, touched his bier, and restored life directly from God.
"A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” they exclaimed because they spoke from their history, their faith, their knowledge that they were the people of the Promise that God gave them and renewed throughout the ages. Melchizedek, king and priest, blessed Abram (Genesis 14). Abraham, Isaac, and David, Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel all received the promise which we heard in Deuteronomy today.
“The Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations...”
“The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality.”
So the crowd knew that this was the Prophet, that he held the Promise. They knew that God remembered them and did not forget them even though they lived under the crushing oppression of Roman law as a defeated and despised people.
That Jesus raised this widow’s son in Nain was hailed throughout the land and was reported to John the Forerunner in jail. John was convinced that Jesus was indeed the One who had been foretold. Great and awesome news indeed.
Along with the promise came expectations.
In Deuteronomy Israel is told, “Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.“ This means to engrave the word of God in your heart and act accordingly. Had they done that? Were they now?
And then they were told, “Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him. He is the one you praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.” (Deuteronomy 10:14-21)
Did the people do this? Did they remain loving and loyal?
And what has this to do with us today? How do we lay claim to this Promise given to Israel?
As we hear from all of our Scripture readings, our hymns and prayers and liturgy and from Jesus himself, Jesus died for all of us; we are all daughters and sons of God; we are all children of the promise. God holds fast to his people even when we forget, challenge, and deny him. Today’s recognition of the Seventh Ecumenical Council reminds us that God continues to work to have us clarify, refine, and extend HIs word. In the year 787, the Council confirmed the nature of the Trinity and established the validity of icons in prayer and worship. The Pope recently released an encyclical about love and what this means for how we treat immigrants and why we reject war. The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church met in 2016 and issued statements including one on the life of Orthodox Christians in a world of great diversity.
Today many of us live in conditions not unlike Israel in Roman times. We are rebuked and scorned, isolated from society’s opportunities. Father Moses Berry, founder and former president of the Fellowship of St. Moses the Black, an organization of African-American Orthodox Christians, told us how a woman once confronted him in an Orthodox Church in Middle America and told him that he did not belong there--because he was a black man. Years later, he was invited to preach at this same church. After the service, this same woman came up to him, apologized, and begged forgiveness. He listened with compassion and he did forgive her, in spite of the years he had lived with the pain and injustice. Many of us live with this rejection every day.
No one walked by the funeral procession and restored life to George Floyd. Or to Ahmaund Arberry, Breonna Johnson, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland. You know the litany of names, and it goes on and on. They were put into the ground and not returned to their mothers’ arms.
And yet, we who profess Jesus as Lord live in the Promise. We know that God’s grace is here for us. We know, even if many around us still don’t, we know that the Lord has set his affection on us and loves us. It’s our faith. Not always seen but known. We are not Jesus, we do not raise the dead.
But we work with faith in him. We work the way he does for justice and love for all. We demonstrate our commitment to Him by showing our love, doing the hard work of justice... through protest, education, voting, standing for justice by law. And by changing, clarifying, and amending governmental law as the members of the Council did for Church law, by keeping alive the undeniable spark of the divine, the pure heart and love of God that resides in us and that no one can take from us, by standing up for ourselves and others and by not making ourselves small to fit into restraints that society puts on us.
"A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” It is up to us believe and live our lives in the way Jesus taught us. And it is up to us to be children of the promise and see that love and justice are spread to all people.
Judith Scott is a frequent blogger for Axia Women. She holds a masters degree from Union Theological Seminary in NYC.