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Lenten Reflections Project 2022

Sunday | March 20 | David Alexander

Luke 7:11-17

Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him.  As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her.  When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”
Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

Lent, as we know, is supposed to reorient our hearts—our desires, commitments, plans, hopes, dreams, loves—in a way that our normal liturgies throughout the week do not tend to do. We give up some thing that are not easy to go without so that we might gain something that is impossible to go meaningfully without. We give up what we often treat as necessary for our joy and our flourishing to see more clearly that which is actually necessary for genuine living.

Our Lord tells us, during his temptation, the very time that our Lenten ritual attempts to imitate, that we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Perhaps one way to understand this is by noting that all of creation, bread included, depends for its existence—both its initial and continued existence—on the word of God. Imagine what our lives—our thoughts, desires, loves, etc—would look like if they were saturated with the truth that everything in creation is brought about and upheld by the word of God. It is not mere bread that I need to keep on going; there is no such thing as mere bread. Rather it is bread-brought-about-and-sustained-by-God’s-word that I need. It not mere water that I need; there is no such thing as mere water. Rather it is water-brought-about-and-sustained-by-God’s-word that I need. Now, I realize that this may not be the main point of Jesus’s remark to the devil in the wilderness. But I suspect it is not far from it.

My problem, and perhaps yours too, is that I tend to live without acknowledging what actually sustains me, what really keeps me going. God’s word does not saturate my thoughts, my desires, my loves in the way that it should, in part, because I tend to live as though it is only relevant for salvation-related themes, for moral-related themes, for narrowly biblical-related themes. But the ‘every’ in “we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” seems to be much more inclusive than those. The thoughts I am having right now are not possible apart from the word of God. And the fact that God has freely chosen to provide us with more specific words, words that renew dead spirits, hard hearts, and perverse desires, is all the more wondrous once we see that God’s word is necessary for the existence of every created thing. It’s as though he has spoken to us twice; once is bringing us into existence and once again in raising us out of spiritual death and into spiritual life. He loves us in the very act of creating us, and he loves us again in the very act of renewing us. The word of God made that dead man sit up and talk. Without the word of God, we are all dead men.

“And Jesus gave him back to his mother.” She had lost a son, her only son. What did she get back? Her son, obviously. But I suspect much more. She had, it is safe to assume, given up hope that her son would recover. Who hopes for recovery at a funeral? Death is the end of hope.

Or so it seems. Jesus gave him back to his mother. I bet she never attended another funeral without hope. I bet no death she encountered from that day forward—the death of a loved one, of a marriage, a friendship, a job, etc.—was sufficient to kill her hope. Not even death is the end of hope.

David Alexander is an Associate Professor of Philosophy and Academic Dean at Providence Christian College.