Rev. Michelle Wahila
PLEASE READ: Galatians 1:11-24 and Luke 7:11-17
11 Soon afterwardshe went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12 As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesusgave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” 17 This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
Jesus and his disciples are traveling in the region of Galilee toward a town called Nain. The town of Nain doesn’t appear anywhere else in Scripture; scholars aren’t even 100% certain where Nain was. It’s an unimportant, nowhere town, probably southwest of Nazareth. Out of this nowhere place comes a funeral procession – a widow’s only son has died. We don’t know the widow’s name, her son’s name, his age, or cause of death. There’s no obituary because there’s nothing left to say. This woman has already been to one funeral; she’s buried her husband and now she is burying her son. She is left with no social security, no retirement, no one else… nothing. Her situation of destitution is grave. She’s nothing but a poor woman from a nowhere town.
Jesus draws near to the woman and he says absolutely the wrong thing, “Do not weep.” Jesus told the woman who lost both her husband and her son not to cry. There are pastoral care professors everywhere failing seminary students for similar showings of concern. Jesus is attending a public funeral and seems to be fumbling. Not only does he say the wrong thing, but he does the wrong thing. He approaches the body and he touches it.
The religious people in the crowd would have been shocked at this action. You aren’t supposed to touch a dead defiled body. You’re not supposed to reach into a “casket,” but Jesus walked up to the men carrying the body and he reached toward the body…. and everyone is shocked. They stopped. Breaking every cultural and religious norm, Jesus literally reaches out and touches death, when he touches the young man and gives the command, “Arise.” And Luke, the physician, tells us that the clinically dead man sits up and begins to speak.
We now begin to understand that Jesus could say to the widow, “Do not weep,” because he knew the next word, “Arise.” Jesus raised the dead man up and then he walked the young man to his mother. Can you see her face? Can you imagine her joy? She got her son back… alive and well… That’s what Jesus does, he touches dead people and brings life.
The Apostle Paul confirms that this is exactly what Jesus does for all of us. “…God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him…” Because we are sinners, though physically alive we are spiritually dead. We don’t seek or find God; we can’t.
This man didn’t cry out for help; he didn’t run to Jesus; he wasn’t a part of the crowd following Jesus … He was dead. He did nothing, said nothing, and yet Jesus found him. He didn’t reach out to Jesus – Jesus reached out to him. He didn’t participate in his healing. He received it. By grace you have been saved: Jesus finds us, reaches out to us, touches us and gives us spiritual life – a new heart, a new nature and a new power to live through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
This is what happens when God looks favorably on his people. Everything changes; life comes anew. The crowd is literally awestruck by this miracle of new life and the awesomeness of Jesus’ power of over death. While there was a whole crowd following Jesus, that knew him as a healer and teacher, it was not an often occurrence for Jesus to raise people from the dead. Recorded in the Scriptures are three events: the raising of Jairus’s daughter, the raising of Lazarus, and this narrative – the raising of the widow’s son.
There is a difference, however, between the raising of the widow’s son and the other two narratives. Jesus calls Mary and Martha to faith before the stone is rolled away from Lazarus’s tomb.
Jesus calls Jairus to faith before he raises his daughter back to life. But Jesus never calls the widow to faith in the same way. She never expresses faith – Jesus approaches her. She doesn’t ask for Jesus. He just comes to her.
In fact, Jesus goes out of his way to get to her. Jesus has been walking for days over hilly terrain with crowds following and pursuing him… Asking him to meet their needs, to heal their sicknesses, drive out their demons. He could have slipped easily by the mourners into town to rest and get away from the crowds because as Jesus comes into town everyone else is out, grieving with this woman. A community wide event, the village is virtually shut down. The large crowd of townspeople are outside the city gate mourning. The young man’s friends are weeping, perhaps surrounding his mother because this is the second funeral that they have attended with her. The widow is weeping.
Jesus could have gone quietly around the mourners into the deserted town, but he chooses to walk the path of the widow instead. Jesus comes to people who don’t ask for him. He comforts people who don’t seek him. He goes out of his way to seek people who don’t even know him.
This is Paul’s message in Galatians – that God has been so moved with compassion toward all people that he has come to visit us and give us his Son. Paul uses his own life as an example of the breadth of this grace, telling the Galatians how dead he was: a violent persecutor of the faith, transformed by the grace revealed in him by new life in Christ. Paul wasn’t wandering around saying, “I wish I could make God happy…” But Jesus comes to him. All of a sudden Paul has to reorder the way he understands God and what it means to be acceptable to God, and through this transformation he is freed to act with the same love and compassion that has claimed him.
When Jesus revealed himself to Paul, he wasn’t in a position to offer faith – he was trying to destroy faith. Just so, the widow was not in a position to offer faith, she was completely destroyed. Mentally, spiritually, physically drained, she was in the pit because she lost everything... The widow’s story reminds us that God meets need even in the darkest nights of the soul where faith is not found. God’s faithfulness is acted out toward us, even there.
The text says, “The Lord had compassion on her,” this broken woman. The Greek word used for “compassion” here is splagchnizomai. It’s difficult to translate the full meaning of the Greek. Some translations of this portion of the text have phrases like “The Lord’s heart went out to her” or “his heart overflowed with compassion.” These translations are simply not strong enough to cover the full meaning. The root of the word means “inward parts” and it can refer to the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver and even the bowels. It points to those inward parts being so moved that the outer being acts.
Jesus is so moved by the widow’s tears on the inside that he acts – raising her son from the dead and then giving him to her. In that wonderful moment, no conditions were laid down, no promises extracted. The awesome gift of new, unexpected life was an unconditional action of grace from the one who is the “Resurrection and the Life.”
We may not know exactly where we will meet the Resurrection and the Life, through whom his compassion will come, or how we will be moved toward compassion for another human being. But in Him, we are given the freedom and hope to act – just as he did – in the power of new life. It is true that Jesus did more here than we are able to do, but the way in which he acted is important. Jesus’ movement toward the widow and his touch on the bier showed his willingness to identify with the situation and not back away from it. That is compassion – that we are so moved from the inside that we act, like Jesus...
When we act like him, in him, and through him giving a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, a sacred touch with oil, a prayer, a call, even a text, a card, or a meal, we act as His body and we have the power to bring hope. It is this kind of compassionate “touch” that reaches below the skin and meets the pain of a hurting heart. It’s in this sacred space that the Church and our community of faith is situated – receiving the broken, seeking the destroyed, and overflowing with the compassion of it’s Savior’s heart. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.