A significant word.
Homily 232 – Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
October 9, 2016
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
The people of the city of Nain made two observations when the young man, the only son of a widow, was raised from the dead.
First, a great prophet has arisen among us.
Second, God has visited his people.
The first observation was perhaps a response to a memory. A recollection, if you will, of a very familiar story in the Old Testament.
One of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament was Elijah. In the book of 1 Kings the 17th Chapter, 3rd Kingdoms in the Septuagint Greek Old Testament, we find that Elijah with a widow woman, whose son has died.
And Elijah intercedes with God, and the son is raised, and the text in Greek says “He gave him to his mother.”
That’s exactly what the Greek text in Luke tells us – the exact same words are used.
For a Jew to say that Elijah was come again would be close to blasphemy. Elijah was arguably the greatest prophet of the Old Testament. And this text calls that to mind without explicitly stating it as fact.
The people recognized it. A great prophet has arisen among us – what is left unsaid is that this is on the order of Elijah.
But it didn’t need to be said. He was doing the same things Elijah did.
If you recall, Elijah plays an important role in the Gospel message. Many people, not just the people of Nain, thought that Jesus was Elijah come again in the flesh. Elijah, as you may remember, never died, but was taken into heaven on what was termed “a fiery chariot”.
Elijah appeared with Moses at the Transfiguration. On the Cross, some mistakenly thought Jesus was calling for Elijah to come and rescue Him.
But there is no doubt that the people of Nain were connecting the dots. Jesus is special. Jesus is the most visible, powerful, representation of God seen in many generations – since Elijah came.
There were three great figures in the Jewish Scriptures, at least after the captivity in Egypt. One was Moses who received the Law, the second was David the King, and the third was Elijah the prophet.
Those three personified the three key elements to Jewish life – Law, Kingship, and Prophecy.
The second observation confirms the importance of the first – but extends beyond it. God has visited his people.
This word visited has a number of implications. As we look back at the Old Testament, as far as Genesis even, the word “visited”, ἐπισκέπτομαι – eh-pis-KEP-toe-mai, has the meaning of presence, but also the meaning of inspection.
So, part of the meaning of “visited” is like a site inspection, or a visitation of a monarch for the purpose of assessing what was there.
It has the implication of a census, almost. In the medieval world of Britan, there would be heraldic visitations, where servants of the ruling Monarch would go and document the coats of arms and insignia of all the nobility that swore allegiance to that King or Queen.
But there is also an intimacy. The Greek word is used when God visits Sarah, the wife of Abraham, and allows her to conceive Isaac.
The last phrases of Genesis speak of Joseph’s prophecy to his children in Egypt that God would visit them and relocate them to the land which was given to Abraham and his descendants.
That was the message Moses was told by God in the Burning Bush to take back to Egypt in fulfillment of that prophecy.
Exodus 3:16 says, “Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt.”
“I have observed you” – I have visited you. I have seen you, been with you. Not only in spirit, but intimately, in physical visitation with you.
It is the coming of the bridegroom to the bride. It is the sending of the Son to the people leasing the vineyard.
It is the recognition that salvation has come – as it did to the Children of Israel in the land of Egypt, and to us in our captivity in the lands of the domination of the Evil One.
Our rescuer is here! Our salvation is present! God is visiting his people.
That comes with an obligation, though. Because as God visits us, and saves us, the same word is used by Jesus to describe how we will be judged by God.
He expects the same of us. He expects us to visit – to be intimately present – with the sick, the imprisoned, the homeless, the widow and orphan.
It is the same word.
God has visited us. Now we go and visit those whom God has made.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!