I was reading the lectionary for today and the gospel reading was the incident known as the raising of the widow of Nain’s son (Luke 7).
Jesus, arriving at the town gates, sees a funeral procession in progress.
Whilst funerals are always sorrowful events, this particular one has a real element of tragedy to it.
A woman who has already buried her husband, is now in the process of burying her only son.
This would be tragic even in our day, but in Bible times, with no state provision of care for the elderly, no life insurance policies, no guaranteed pension, this woman finds herself in a situation that is both tragic and terrifying. Who will look after her in her old age? Who will protect her from abuse and oppression? Her life has been cruelly stripped of all joy, all hope, all security.
Jesus is confronted by this situation and he does three things;
- Firstly he says to the woman “Stop crying”.
- Secondly he approaches the funeral bier and commands the dead body to get up.
- Thirdly he gives the resuscitated boy back to his mother.
I was struck by the manner in which this story encapsulates the whole of the gospel message.
God comes to us in our existential distress. How could we not be distressed? We face the certainty of death, which will entail the nullification of all of our hopes, dreams, plans and projects. It will also mean a full and final separation from all that we hold dear. Who would not be distressed at that awful prospect?
The first thing that God does is an expression of his Compassion. He comes to us and tells us “Don’t cry”. There is hope. There is one who both cares and can do something about the situation.
The second thing God does is an expression of His Capability. He gives us life. He makes us – the spiritually dead – to share in His life – an eternal life, an unending life, an indestructible life.
The final thing God does is an expression of His Concern, what He wants to happen in the World. Newly raised to life, he gives us back to our fellows, to our families, to our friends. We are to be reunited in order that we can, in our turn, help others to receive the real life that only God can give.
All of which is summed up wonderfully by the crowd’s reaction to Jesus action that day at Nain.
“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.’” (Luke 7:16, NIV)
I find in my life a constant temptation in these three areas.
Firstly, I am tempted to doubt God’s Compassion. Does God really care about me and my infinitely small life and circumstances? Do they really have any significance to the awesome God who controls the universe?
Secondly, I am tempted to doubt God’s Capability. Can God really bring new life in this situation that seems reeking of death? Is life even possible here?
Thirdly, I am tempted to forget God’s Concern. That God has sent me back into the world, as a wholly living being, in order to share with others the glorious possibility of life that God offers.
Compassion – Capability – Concern
The whole of the gospel.