People who met Jesus : 29 : The Widow
Lk 7:11-15 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 coffin, and those carrying it 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.
This story appears nowhere else in the Gospels. Perhaps it appears in Luke’s Gospel because, as he was sifting the stories he had heard, trying to decide which ones to include, this one struck him, as a physician, for its shear beauty. Luke is clearly a people-person who feels for people and the story of the widow of Nain is a moving story. It is thought that Nain is probably in the south east of Galilee, and Jesus is obviously on his tour of the towns of Galilee bringing the love of God to them. Why he went to Nain we don’t know. Whether he knew what was about to happen, again we don’t know, but otherwise it is a coincidence that he arrives at the moment that a funeral procession is coming out of the town gate on the way to the local cemetery.
Look at the terrible description of the dead person: “the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.” This isn’t just a funeral; this is a portrayal of the devastating nature of life. We don’t know how old the son was but there is no mention of a wife in attendance which may suggest both he and his mother are of younger years, yet he is described as a man at the end of our verses. But she is a widow. She has already lost her husband. Life has already dealt her one cruel blow and now it is dealing her another, for her only son has just died. She is now all alone. This is a most pitiful picture.
There are no reasons given in this short account for the death of the husband and the death of the son. Job’s comforters would have claimed that they must have been a bad family and they were only getting what they deserved, but it doesn’t work like that! If we got what we deserved all of us would be dead. Yes, some sins do bring about illness or even death, but people who are not sinful in any big way die for no apparent reason beyond the illness or bodily failure that took them. Life in a Fallen World is like that, it goes wrong and people die. Ultimately we die because of sin in the world but the reasons why specific people die are often a mystery. It isn’t judgment; it’s just that we live in a Fallen World where things go wrong.
Yet into this world comes the Son of God with all power. He doesn’t exercise that power indiscriminately but uses it as moved by the Father – or by people! In this story we read, “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her.” Jesus acted as he did because he was moved by compassion. Compassion is an expression of love and we are told, “God IS love,” (Jn 4:8,16) and Jesus is the perfect expression of that love, and Jesus constantly expresses love, and we see it in different forms in the Gospels. Here we see it in the form of compassion that moved him into action.
We are told something else about the woman: “a large crowd from the town was with her.” She was a popular woman and her plight caused anguish in the town. When Jesus sees her and sees the crowd, he is moved. He understands her plight and he feels for her, and what he feels moves him to act.
There are three phases to what he does. The first is to reassure the woman: “his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” Initially she may not have realised what was happening. All she knows is that suddenly this preacher accompanied by his own large crowd steps up and interrupts the funeral procession, and he starts with her. Phase one is a subtle indication that he is going to do something. Next he goes over to the procession and puts his hand on what was probably an open-top coffin. Those carrying it stop. This man obviously wants something and he carries and air of authority about him, so the funeral procession is stopped and they come to a halt. Jesus is bringing this ‘death activity’ to a halt. It’s as if he is implying, that’s enough, this has gone on long enough. The third phase is a word of authority spoken to the dead body and that word has effect so that the body comes alive and the man sits up and starts speaking.
I suspect that those carrying the coffin didn’t know what to do with themselves at this point! No doubt they put the coffin down, if they hadn’t already done that when Jesus stopped them. From the wording it would appear that Jesus probably took the confused (?) man by the hand and led him back to his mother who must have now been standing there in tears. Luke just records, “and Jesus gave him back to his mother.” It is a purposeful act of reuniting them. Mother and son are back together again. Wonderful!
This is a story where nothing is asked of Jesus, and no one came to him. He simply came upon this funeral procession and stepped in, moved by compassion. There are times when we pray our hearts out to get God to move on our behalf, and there are times when He just comes on His own volition. Why does He come? He comes because He loves us and is moved by our plight. Hallelujah!