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. – Luke 7:11-17
As the crowd drew near the small village, they saw a large group of people emerging from the town, it was soon evident this was a funeral procession. The Jewish practice of burying the dead quickly suggested that the loss was a recent and very raw event. The sounds of grief reached the group at nearly the same moment the men emerged carrying the body.
The crowd stopped as the mourners drew near. The two groups coalesced around the grief of death, sharing in the sense of loss.
A widow walked in the crowd. Many in Jesus’s crowd assumed that the body was that of her husband. But it was revealed that her husband had already died. Here on the plank was her only son. She was now alone.
The sense of grief deepened. To be alone, a widow with no son, was a precarious and vulnerable place to be. The minds of Jesus’s followers recalled the laws of Moses, the requirements given to care for and protect widows. This woman was now alone and her care, her very life, depended on those around her obeying the laws of Moses, the laws that Jesus preached and expounded upon. Each person in the crowd felt a deep sense of responsibility. A general curiosity wound its way through the mass following Jesus: What would He say about taking care of widows?
So much of what He had already said about the law had stretched its meaning. It was not enough simply to follow the letter of the law. More important was a person’s devotion to God, from which true obedience came. Surely this wasn’t different. If caring for widows by providing for their food was already a part of the law, how could that be deepened? They were not prepared for what they were about to see.
Jesus, standing at the front of the group watched as the mourners approached Him. He saw the grief of the widow as she walked solemnly and slowly next to her dead son. And He knew the life that was ahead of her, a life that depended on the goodness of others, a life of toiling in the fields to gather what was left behind after the harvest. Jesus envisioned her stooped, back strained after hours of labor, picking the kernels of wheat. He knew the coming sore joints as she ground the wheat to make flour. He imagined the sadness and sorrow of a life spent alone, the very work of surviving a toilsome weariness. His heart went out to her. He felt compassion for her.
Jesus stepped toward the widow, and she looked up at Jesus. Her eyes wet with tears, face red with emotional exhaustion, her expression a mask of grief and anxiety.
“Don’t cry.” The words, though gently spoken, shocked all who heard them. They seemed cruel and callous. What a thing to say to a mother wounded by the death of her only son! The grieving woman flinched. How could she do anything but cry? The loss of a child is enough to crush any parent. But to lose an only child after the death of a spouse—surely this was grief beyond what many would ever experience.
But when the woman’s eyes met His, her shock faded. She saw the deep compassion and sympathy they held.
Jesus turned His head and looked at the body. He left the widow standing and walked to the bier stretched between the men carrying it. As He approached, they stopped. Many in the crowd held their breath as Jesus came dangerously close to the dead body and risked becoming ceremonially unclean.
But He did not touch. He stood next to the boy’s head. Leaning forward, He spoke softly but firmly to the body. “Young man, I say to you, get up.” The body, revived by the words and power of Jesus, sat up, his burial wraps stretching and straining as his body shifted positions. He began to speak.
The men quickly lowered the bier and unwrapped his head. Jesus took him and walked him back to his mother, whose tears flowed even more than before as she received her son back.
Wonder spread through both crowds. The stories of Elijah and Elisha sprang to the minds of many. Both prophets had raised widow’s sons, just as Jesus had now done.
A few dwelled on the differences between what Jesus had done and the resurrections performed by the prophets of old. Compared to the work of the ancient prophets, Jesus’s resurrection was startlingly easy, requiring Him only to speak. Most, however, were caught up in the joy and wonder of the moment, the comparison between Jesus and the prophets of another era finding utterance in their exclamations: “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.”
This story spread faster than Jesus could travel. News of His words and deeds went ahead of Him.
Reflect: Life is hard in so many ways. It often feels as though the give and take of life is terribly out of balance. What do you feel life has unfairly taken from you? How do you mourn the losses you experience? What comfort does the compassion of Jesus offer you? How do you reach out to help the destitute and vulnerable? In what ways might you be guilty of practicing the sentiments but not the actions of compassion?
Pray: Jesus, thank You for the compassion You show us and all the ways You provide for us in our times of need. We know we are surrounded by others in need—those with spiritual needs, emotional needs, physical needs, and sometimes all three.
Forgive me for the times I’ve been guilty of offering empty sentiments divorced from action. Help me in my efforts to practice a true and better religion as I look after those in need. Amen.