Luke 7:11-17, Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
“You haven’t lived.” That’s what I say to people when they tell me they’ve never climbed Mount Apo or done the whitewater of Cagayan de Oro. It’s only an expression I know but a line I hope that pauses people (including myself) and makes us ask about what it means to have lived.
Today’s readings are about human life being returned after being taken away. Chances are it won’t happen to us who will all have to go through that door at some point in this journey. Even Christ our Lord had to go through that door.
To my mind, the gospels relate only three instances of life being returned after being taken away: the daughter of Jairus, the close friend Lazarus, and the young man, the only son of the widow of Nain (today’s gospel). And even they at some point had to reenter the door of death.
The point perhaps is not to wish death away. We enter all sorts of doors while we live, doors that lead to other doors. Eventually however, all these doors lead to that one portal. The wish is to enter that final door with a sense of fullness, a sense of having lived a life as fully as one could have lived it, that is, with a lovely arc of a story. Such a sense of fullness and closure is hard to get if there were no denouement or ending.
In “An Interview with God”, a slideshow on the internet, God asks, “why do people live as if they will never die, and die as if they have never lived?” To go through life oblivious of the end might be a happy choice but that kind of happy has a habit of biting us in the end. And to be shown the final door as if one had never lived would be, well, tragic.
Perhaps that is how the sting of death is taken away. It is blunted by life. Not just any kind of life. But a life lived as fully as we could have lived it, complete with all the scars and regrets, the seasons of joy and sorrow, the daily dying, the quiet redemption that comes with any loving, all the little scenes and big episodes that we compose and are composed for us in this arc that is our life’s story.
How might we know that life’s fullness is in our story? What could fullness of life mean for us? If we have been busy putting life in the years that have been given us, what has this entailed?
One way to know fullness of life would be to gaze at the lives of those we have loved and admired, our heroes, and to see in them the fullness we so desire. Another way would to be to imagine our own funeral, fantasizing about the people who are there and what they are saying. Or to imagine the last day of our lives, spending part of it in solitude, writing our ultimo adios to those we have loved. A bucket list (i.e. a to-do list one makes before one kicks the bucket, so to speak) can also give us clues to what we think a full life might mean.
Or we could simply dwell on the life of Jesus Christ to see how in just a handful of years he lived life to its fullness. In the gospels, we get to glimpse this fullness in how he dealt with all sorts of people, from “disciples, to sinners, children, to Pharisees, Pilates and Herods.” With Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ, we can pray to Christ for “that sensus Christi – the sensing of Christ … that [we] may feel with your feelings, with the sentiments of your heart, which basically are love for your Father and love for humanity.”
In the gospel story today, right after Jesus brings the young man to life, there is a tender moment that is perhaps easily missed: “And Jesus gave him to his mother.” But of course, you say, how else could he not give that man back to his mother? Well, the author of life could have owned the man from that time on. And yet in that simple act of returning the young man to his widowed mother we see here the very point of the salubong, the whole point of life and its fullness: that we are given to one another, that life is given to us to give to each other, that our lives find fullness in our being emptied ultimately and returned to others.
It is this fullness that empowers us to face that door as Christ once did for us. The same enduring fullness that enables us to hold on to the promise that in the “end”, beyond that final door, we will be given back to each other.
You haven’t died. That’s what I say to people who are so full of themselves. And if you haven’t died, well then, you haven’t lived.