Not long after that, Jesus traveled to a city called Nain. His students went with him, as did a large crowd of people. He came across a funeral procession as he approached the city limits. The man who had died was the only son of a widow. She was accompanied by a large group of mourners from the city. The Lord felt sorry for her, so he said to her, “Don’t cry.” Then he went to the coffin and touched it. The pallbearers stopped walking. Jesus said, “Young man, I’m telling you to get up!” The dead man sat up and started talking. Then Jesus gave him back to his mother. Everybody freaked out and glorified God saying things like, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God’s looking out for his people!” News about Jesus spread throughout the whole region of Judea, as well as through all the surrounding territories (As Luke Tells It 7:11-17, The New Peace Treaty: A New Translation of the New Testament
As hard as it is for us to accept today, or as hard as it is to understand, women in the ancient world had no identity apart from a man. A woman was somebody’s daughter until she became somebody’s wife, and then, since she would most likely outlive her husband, she hopefully was somebody’s mother. Therefore, this woman not only lost a son, she lost her means of support. To be a woman without a man was to fall through the social cracks, to have no visible means of support, to have no security and no identity. This woman, a widow, who lost her only son, was left with nothing.
So often we read stories like these and we have some sort of warm, Hallmark Card, fuzzy feeling about how sweet it is that Jesus is so compassionate that he felt sorry for this widow who is now burying her son; that Jesus empathizes and sympathizes with the emotional heartbreak and loss of this woman. We see Jesus’ compassion, and we limit that compassion to the emotional arena. She was sad, Jesus made her happy. That’s the moral we get out of it.
But this story is so much more than that! Yes, she is sad. What mother wouldn’t be? But she is also destitute with no means of support or security or identity. She is not a person anymore. That’s what the death of her son meant in addition to the devastating emotional pain of losing a son–she lost her entire life with him.
When Jesus raises her son, he restores HER life! Her life is dead, as dead as her son. Her identity is gone. All she is now is a widow who must spend her life hoping on the kindness of others. She will most likely be reduced to begging for change, food, everything she needs to survive. But Jesus raises her son. Jesus looks at this woman who was socially dead and he brought HER back to life, by restoring her to her full humanity.
This story is not simply a story about a miracle, or a story of a dead guy coming back to life, it is the story of welfare. Jesus has compassion on her and gives her what she needs–someone to support her financially as well as emotionally. We see Jesus do this for his own mother when he is on the cross. He says to his beloved disciple “This is your mother” and he says to his mother “This is your son.” He makes sure his mother has the support she needs to continue living in the fullness of life available to her. And that is what he does for this woman by restoring her son’s life.
Those of us who follow Jesus must remember that our work and sacrifice is not just emotional, it is physical and it is real. We must give what people need, and most people need more than someone who feels sorry for them, or who will say they will pray for them. Prayer is powerful but to a hungry man, prayer is empty if you do not follow such prayer by giving him food. Every time Jesus has compassion, he is moved to act. Jesus never just sighs and says “That’s tough. I’ll pray for you.” Jesus is moved with compassion and he is compelled to do something about the situation.
Compassion means “to suffer with”–it is not “I understand how you feel” it is “I am experiencing what you experience.” Jesus is God’s compassion. In Jesus Christ, God took on our humanity and lives our lives–headaches, toothaches, annoying people, dog barking in the middle of the night, family members who know how to push our buttons, taxes, trying to make ends meet, sickness, and death–God experienced it all through Jesus Christ. And when God feels what we feel, God is compelled to act. God’s most powerful act was to call us, empower us, equip us, and send us to act for others.
Those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ are people of action–that is our calling, and that is the gift that God gives each of us. We get to be the hands of God who ministers to the world. We get to be the eyes of God who sheds tears at suffering and indifference. We get to be the ears of God who listens. We get to be the mouth of God who speaks.
Everything God does in this world, He does through people. If we truly have compassion, we will, like Christ, be compelled to act. If we have compassion, we cannot stand back at a safe distance, but, like God, we jump into the full condition of the other. We laugh with those who laugh, we cry with those who cry, we sing songs with those who sing, we jump for joy with those who jump for joy. We are God’s compassion in the world, and like Jesus, when we are moved with compassion, we should be compelled to act.