5th June 2016, Mattins, Easton,
Yesterday he was in Capernaum healing the Centurion’s slave and now he has got as far as Nain so given the distances involved he must have set out almost immediately after the healing in Capernaum. Despite it being a day’s walk from Capernaum to Nain the large crowd that had gathered to hear his sermon on the plain are still following him. That’s not really surprising giving the number of miracles he has done. The key difference with the miracle that is about to happen is that faith was not involved as had been the case with the earlier miracles. The key element this time is Jesus’ enormous compassion.
In this event we see a timeless scene. It is the ageless sorrow that death causes. The more loved the dead one is the greater the sorrow. It is a part of the human condition. However with Jesus present two extra elements are added. Firstly Jesus is moved to compassion. He sees a woman who is doubly bereaved. She has already lost her husband and now her only son has died. In her totally patriarchal society she is now a nobody. She is not someone’s daughter or wife or mother so she has no claim on any one and quite possibly is destitute and homeless as a result. Her situation moved Jesus to compassion.
As we know so much about Jesus that we might expect him to be compassionate. Luke recorded this scene knowing that Jesus was God incarnate. However it is likely that before becoming a Christian Luke would have been a Stoic. Stoics believed that God was completely unchanging because to be changed was to be influenced by someone or something else. God, as the most powerful being, could not be influenced by someone else. So for Luke to record Jesus being influenced by the widow’s predicament shows how important it was for Luke.
Secondly in this story we see the power of Jesus as well as his compassion. He uses his power to bring the boy back to life. Some commentators suggest that the boy was not actually dead but was in something lie a catatonic state so simply appeared dead. Even if that is true Jesus saved him from death because he would have been sealed in the tomb alive. In this episode Jesus shows himself as the Lord of life giving life back to the boy and Lord of death removing the boy from the grip of death.
Now I would ask you now to let your imagination take you to Nain. It will probably help if you shut your eyes to do this. You are following the brier a few feet behind the weeping widow. . You are walking in a cloud of dust stirred up by the people ahead of you. It is a hot day with a dazzling blue sky and the sun is at its highest. The heat of the sun dries the tears on yours and everyone’s cheeks almost as soon as they are wept. You all know the widow’s dilemma so your tears and sobs are both for the dead boy and the widow. It does not matter that being part of a funeral procession occurs very regularly in this small town, each person is genuinely grieved for and this one is particularly tragic. Your sobs cannot be heard because of the professional mourners leading the procession. They make such a noise that you, the widow and all who are really grieving can sob loudly without being heard or seeming to make a scene. That really helps.
You all now approaching the narrow gate that leads from the town to the cemetery. The widow’s family have a plot in the cemetery. It is a small cave. Her husband was buried there. Now only his bones remain and they are been respectfully folded and placed in a bone box leaving space on the shelf for his son.
Before the procession goes through the gate you hear shouting and laughter coming from the other side of the gate. You look up and there is a large crowd led by a man that you think you recognise. He looks like the carpenter’s son from a village not five miles from Nain, Nazareth, but can it really be him? The man stops and looks at your friend the widow. You can see him clearly now and yes it is Jesus from Nazareth – amazing. As Jesus looks at the widow you see something in his face change – it is as if he is trying to stop himself from crying.
He says something quietly to the widow but you cannot hear what. Her face looks completely puzzled. Then he does something totally outrageous. He goes up to the brier and touches it. Now he is ritually unclean and will not be able to go to the synagogue for a week. How stupid is that. Whilst his hand is still on the brier he speaks and this time you can hear him. He tells the boy get up. You can’t believe your eyes because that is exactly what the boy does and he starts talking to his mother. The two crowds erupt with joy.
At first you are staring at the boy who now is so alive then your gaze moves to Jesus. Surely he must be a prophet to work a miracle like that. Then you remember that the prophet Elisha raised a widow’s son from the dead in a town not far from here although that was about 800 years ago. Someone else has made the same connection and calls out “God has looked favourably on his people!” The only time those words are used are when God makes himself visible on earth as he did with Moses, Elijah and Elisha. Is Jesus some way a manifestation of God?
If you have had your eyes shut please open them now and everyone come back to Easton 2000+ years on. I wonder what you made of that? I hope that you felt Jesus’ presence in some way. I hope that because I would like to suggest that it is a way of feeling Jesus’ loving presence when you face some disaster – as sadly we all do in this life.
In your prayers at such a time imagine Jesus approaching you. See him, hear him speak to you, feel him touching you, tell him about your fears or concerns. Jesus may not say what you want to hear or do what you want him to do. Nevertheless with Jesus alongside you, you will find that you will be able to come through it. You will find that, to quote St. Chrysostom whose words we prayed earlier, Jesus will “fulfil our desires and petitions as may be most expedient for us”.