Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino

 

 Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: God Did Not Make Death

 

 

          God did not make death. The readings for this Sunday don't ease us into today's topic. They launch us into it.  They demand that we discuss that question that bothers us deeply. Why is there death?  And the questions that flow from this: Why do children die?  How can a good and loving God let a child die?  Jesus raised up a dead child in the Gospel.   Sometimes she is called Tabitha or Talitha. Why did not God do for a child who just passed away from complications due to leukemia what He did for Tabitha? 

 

            Why is there evil?  Why is there sin?   How can some people do things which are so completely evil? A young white man attends a service at a Church in Charleston with a long history of serving the African American community.  The man sits next to the pastor and worships with him and the community for a full hour. Then he pulls out a gun and kills that pastor and eight other people. Was he deranged, mentally ill?  Possibly.  Maybe he was just misguided.  That would be an understatement.  His actions were completely, totally evil. 

 

            Recently, there was an article in the Ossertavore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.  It told the story of one of thousands of Teen girls who are suffering due to ISIS. She and her family were Christians living in Northern Iraq. Isis attacked her town, conquered it easily and then rounded up all the survivors. The men and boys were herded into a group and gunned down. She saw her father and brother killed right in front of her.  The older women and little children were put into another group and then killed. The Teenage girls were not killed.  They were given a choice: renounce Jesus Christ, become Moslem, and be married to one of the soldiers, or become a slave servicing the base desires of the soldiers.  She and many others refused to renounce Christ.  Her life became a nightmare. Man after man, day and night, beating her, doing horrendous things to her.  One night the Turkish army attacked the ISIS positions. Mortar fire hit the building she was in. In the chaos, she escaped from the building and ran towards the mortars. She knew she might be killed, but it was worth the risk. She made it to the Turkish lines. Some of the soldiers there saw her and held their fire.  A Turkish family took her in. Shortly after that she realized she was pregnant. She was sent to Rome, where religious sisters are caring for her.  In her mind and in her culture her life is over.  No man would ever marry her.  But she wants to care for her baby. There is no way that those soldiers were living their faith. Islam speaks of  Allah, the Compassionate and Merciful.  So we ask, “How could people be so completely evil to young teenage girls in so many places throughout the world?”  They are not the first to pervert religion to justify their selfishness, their immorality.  Many Christians have done terrible things throughout history, even in our own time. And so we ask: Why does this evil exist?  Why doesn't God do something about it?  Why is there death?

 

            These questions eat at us to such an extent that we are tempted to question God’s existence, or at least His Goodness and His Power. That is exactly what the devil wants us to do. He wants us to question God’s power. Today's first reading from the Book of Wisdom says that it is by the envy of the devil that death entered into the world. Angels were created before humans. They were given free will. They could chooses God or reject Him. Some angels in their pride attempted to make themselves equal to God. St Michael the Archangel, whose name means "Who is equal to God?" defeated them, and banned Satan from any contact with the Lord of Life. Satan went from being Lucifer, the name that means God's Lightbearer, to the Prince of Darkness. Satan could not defeat God's angels, but he could make war on God’s most beautiful physical creature, man. He tried to destroy mankind with the same sin that he committed: the sin of pride.  He told mankind, Adam and Eve, that if they disobey God they will be gods themselves. Man pushed God aside, made their own selfishness their god, turned from the Lord of Life and embraced death.  Mankind continues to do this.  Satan continues to wage war and win battles.  So, God did not cause evil.  Evil came into the world because mankind chose sin over goodness. God did not make death. Mankind chose death by rejecting the Lord of Life.

 

            God's love for mankind was not limited. He destroyed death through an act of complete giving, complete selflessness. He became one of us and then told evil to throw its worst at him. It did.  He was crucified.  But Jesus destroyed death through sacrificial love. He rose from the dead and then gave us His Life. 

 

“Christ is risen from the dead, Trampling over death by death, Come awake, come awake! Come and rise up from the grave!” Matt Maher wrote © CCLI  License # 2368115  

 

            “God formed man to be imperishable.  In the image of his own nature he made him," the first reading says.  Man had rejected God’s gift. As a result of his sin, man no longer shared in Gods nature. But Jesus Christ restored man’s ability to receive the life of God.  Do you see how important baptism is?  Baptism pours the Life of God into our souls. Nothing the world can do to us can take this life from us.

 

            The Gospel tells the story about the raising of a twelve year old girl from the dead.   Little girl, arise, Talitha Kaum.  Let me tell you one last story about another little girl the same age as Tabitha. Her name was Agnes. She was 12, just beginning to flower into a woman. She lived in Rome in the beginning of the Fourth century.  This was a time when more and more people were embracing Jesus Christ. Agnes was a Christian and a determined one. But she had caught the eye of the son of a pagan Roman official. The official tried to arrange a marriage for his son.  Agnes refused.   To marry his son, she would have to reject Jesus Christ and become a pagan.  She would not  do that. The official was furious. He was insulted.  He was belittled.  He would show her and the other Christians what would happen to someone who defied Rome. The Emperor had declared all out war on all Christians, determined to rid the Empire and particularly Rome of these people who refused to worship the pagan gods, refused to worship him. Agnes was an easy victim for the Romans to use as an example to any who would defy the Emperor and worship Jesus Christ. She was condemned to become a child prostitute. They dressed her up and paraded her through Rome to the horrible place where those who were human but less than human were lining up for her. We don't know exactly what happened, but we do know that the men could not defile her. Frustrated, the soldiers took Agnes out and killed her. But Jesus was there and said, "Talitha Kaum". She did not rise from the dead like Tabitha did.  She did something infinitely better. She left a world of death and was eternally united  to the Lord of Life. To this very day, whenever a priest or bishop is made an archbishop, he travels to Rome to receive a special garment called a pallium.  This garment made of fine lamb’s wool.  It is conferred on the new archbishops on  January 21st, the Feast of St Agnes,  God’s little Lamb. Agnes joined Jesus in conquering death by death.  She calls on us to join her in selling out for the Lord.

 

     God did not make death. He does not cause evil. He cries with us, bawls with us in the face of the horror of the world. But He is not defeated. He restores His life to those who accept Him.  "Go and baptize," Jesus said. Go and lead others to God.   Lead them away from the horror of the world. Lead them to the Lord of Life.

 

            the dark is groaning

            the tomb is reaching out

            oh, but you can't have me

            oh, but you can't have me

 

            the crows are circling

            the jackal waits in the dark

            oh, but you can't have me

            oh, but you can't have me

 

            I belong to the land of the rising sun

            where the grave is no more and the war has been won

            I belong to the land of the rising sun

            I belong to you, I belong

 

            Ike Ndolo © CCLI  License # 2368115