Psalm 146 – I will praise the Lord. Do not put your trust in princes. The Lord vindicates the poor and oppressed.
Psalm 30 – O Lord you pulled me up from Sheol, you rescued me from those going down to the grave.
Galatians 1:11-24 – Paul’s gospel is not of human origin. Paul was set apart before he was born, then called by God’s grace, to proclaim Christ among the Gentiles.
Luke 7:11-17 – Jesus raises the widow’s son at Nain
If you would like posts on Galatians passages, check these out:
- May 29, 2016, P2C, Galatians 1:1-12
- June 5, 2016, P3C, Galatians 1:11-24
- June 12, 2016, P4C, Galatians 2:15-21 (June 16 is also Father’s Day)
- June 19, 2016, P5C, Galatians 3:23-29 (June 19 is Juneteenth)
- June 26, 2016, P6C, Galatians 5:1, 13-25 (July 4 is Independence Day)
- July 3, 2016, P7C, Galatians 6:[1-6] 7-16 (July 4 is Independence Day)
In Luke, Jesus’ ministry in Galilee appears in Luke 4:14-9:50. Prior to that are the birth narratives and Jesus’ preparation for ministry (baptism, temptation, etc.). In chapters 9-19, Jesus journeys to Jerusalem, and chapters 20-24 take place entirely in Jerusalem.
The healing stories in Luke say something about Jesus’ priorities. In Luke 7, last week’s gospel, Jesus healed the centurion’s slave in Capernaum (on the north side of the Sea of Galilee). Today, he will resuscitate the son of a widow at Nain.
Nain is a town, just southwest of the sea of Galilee, not far from Mount Tabor and Nazareth, Jesus’ home town. This is the one and only place this town is mentioned in the Bible. Today, Nein, is an Arab town. Rock-sunk tombs, probably Christian, have been found there.
Some copies we have of Luke say, “Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain.” Others say, “The next day…” It is 32 miles from Capernaum to Nain, two days of travel on foot. In general, Luke seems fairly unfamiliar with Palestinian geography, so I wouldn’t read too much into this textual variant.
This story has no parallel in the other gospels. It is unique to Luke. It does, however, have affinities with the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5) and the raising of Lazarus (John 11). It also tracks Elijah’s revival of the widow’s son at Zarephath (1 Kings 17), one of the options for the first reading of the day.
Here’s Luke 7:11-17:
Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
Luke tends to pay attention to women, and the plight of women more than the other gospels. A widow who has lost her husband, and now her only son, will have no income in this society. She was facing destitution. Men have considerable authority over women and their lives. Jesus’ attention to this often gets overlooked. For example, his condemnation of divorce is likely directed at men, who could divorce their wives with a simple statement of divorce. Women did not have such legal rights. Jesus’ protection of the woman caught in the act of adultery, who was about to be stoned to death, may have reflected the inequity of no man being present to suffer such severe punishment. Coming from a society where women now vote, hold public office, own property, and start businesses, we often miss the stunning way in which Jesus relates to women. Even the disciples find it astonishing: John 4:27.
As Jesus approaches the town gate to go in, a dead man is being carried out, along with a large crowd. The text says Jesus “had compassion for her.” The word is ἐσπλαγχνίσθη, which means “guts.” He had guts for her. He was moved to the depths of his bowels. This is the same word that is used when the father in the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) sees his son coming from a long way off and is moved with compassion. Some versions, trying to convey the depth of this word, say, “his heart went out to her.” Compassion is often the first step to taking action. Crisis plus compassion often leads to amazing things. What has moved you to the depths of your being recently?
He tells her not to cry. My pastoral care professor would have advised against such statements. “There, there. Don’t cry.” This can diminish another person’s grief, as if one is saying, “It’s not all that bad.” But this seems to be a sign of Jesus’ resolve. He approaches the bier and touches it. This would, of course, make him unclean. Jesus does this a lot in the gospels – another thing we miss if we’re not aware of Jewish customs. Jesus encounters women, lepers, and dead bodies in a way that would make him ritually unclean. But compassion trumps the law. I know some people who don’t like this statement, but it’s hard to get around it in the gospels. When criticized for healing on the Sabbath, Jesus responds, “Good heavens! Have a little heart. If your donkey fell in the ditch on the Sabbath, you would get it out. Why not care for this person?” (My paraphrase, of course.)
Thing is, the young man got up and started speaking. The response of the crowd seems appropriate. They were afraid. This is not something you see every day.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. In the days before modern medical equipment, it was harder to determine if someone was actually dead or not. Coma, hypothermia, and the like, could mimic death. Perhaps he was not dead.
Even today, people can be mistaken for dead. This man remembers hearing the doctor pronounce him brain dead. One of our primordial fears seems to be being buried alive.
But this is not Luke’s intent. Move away from the actual event, however it played out, and consider why Luke is including it in his gospel. Luke is not a contemporary writer reflecting on a person from antiquity. Luke himself is from antiquity. He is telling us this story to gradually reveal who this Jesus of Nazareth is, one who can holds the keys to life and death. This is part of Luke’s proclamation of Jesus as the Son of God.
This event is for Luke, and his hearers, to be seen as a foreshadowing of the resurrection of the dead. This is his witness that this life is not all there is. This Jesus proclaims that there is more to life than meets the eye.
Perhaps Luke tells us how we should hear this story, by putting in the mouths of the crowd gathered around the funeral bier: “A great prophet has risen among us!” This is a play on words. The dead man has risen; a prophet has risen. Luke’s is the best Greek in the New Testament. He is a master with words. This prophet, who has risen, and has raised the dead, like the prophet Elijah before him, is a person of deep compassion, concerned for the most vulnerable of society.
The text ends by telling us that this story spread to the south, to Judea, to where Jesus will be heading soon, and to the place where John the Baptizer is doing his thing along the Jordan River. This is a nice segue to the next text about John the Baptist, who wonders if Jesus is the One or not. Unfortunately, that text never appears in our three-year Revised Common Lectionary. But don’t worry, it’s parallel, Matthew 11:2-6, will come up this Advent 3A, and with the exception of a little narration, it’s almost word-for-word.
One last thought. Grace is a free gift. How much faith did the dead man have to have to be healed?