On the raising of the son of Nain’s widow
This Sunday is the third Sunday of Luke, with the Gospel reading being from St Luke (7:11-16). The evangelist speaks of the miracle of the resurrection of the son of the widow of Nain (a city located southeast of Nazareth). We, of course, know that this is not the only miracle that Jesus performed of raising someone from the dead, but it could have been the first occurrence, followed by the miracle of the raising of the daughter of Jairus (which was detailed in Luke 8:40-56), and the raising of His friend Lazarus, from death after four days (John 11:17-44). What distinguishes this miracle from the others is the intent with which it was performed; this one being of the initiative of the Lord Jesus himself, and not at the request of anyone else.
The Gospel reading chronicles the time after Jesus healed the servant of the Centurion, who was ill and approaching his death in Capernaum when Jesus continued on with his disciples and a great multitude to a city called Nain where there lived a widow who had lost her only son in unknown circumstances. Her situation was a difficult one; not only was she a widow, but she’d also lost her only son, and this sadness is given as an example of grief. She was surrounded by relatives, friends and the people of the town as she came out to bury her son; yet despite all the condolences and pillars of support around her, her grief was unable to be compensated and nor was she able to be comforted in peace and consolation.
If we take a look at the symbolism depicted in this scene we can see the funeral procession and the coffin representing death, and on the other side approaching the procession were the disciples and the Lord Jesus, representing life. The two parades meet at the gate of the city; the procession of death (the funeral) and the procession of life (Jesus Christ), where through the miracle of Christ, life was to prevail over death.
“Oh, Death where is your sting? Oh, Hades where is your victory?” the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:55.
The sight of this grieving widow stirred the heart of Jesus Christ and He “had compassion towards her”. He felt her pain and grief as He is compassionate and plentiful in mercy. “The Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). He approached her with tenderness, of his own accord and initiative, void of any expectations that she should reach out to him first and ask for his help, and He said to her “Don’t cry.” Then He touched the coffin above the bearers, stopping the processions, and spoke to her dead son, “I say to you arise.” Through the grace of God, the deceased sat up and started to speak and Jesus gave him to his mother.
If any other man had attempted this act, had attempted to speak with the deceased in a public forum, he would most certainly have been subjected to ridicule and mockery from the masses. But the Word of the God, as the apostle Paul says, “is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword”. This Word is not just mere sound vibrations, but a Word that holds the power of life, it is the living Word. Prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament bears witness to the Word. “This is how my word that comes out of my mouth, does not return to me empty, but does what I am pleased with and succeeds in what I sent it to.” (Isaiah 55:11)
The Bible speaks about how the Lord Jesus showed His compassion to the multitudes by healing their diseases and comforting them as he showed interest in their physical needs. “When Jesus came out, he saw a lot of people and had compassion on them as they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34) and (Matthew 9:35). In this particular incident, He did not appear as an indifferent spectator or unconcerned and oblivious to the pain of human grief, He intervened in the life of the widow and followed His Word with action; He first comforted her by saying “Do not cry” and then raised her only son from death, before “presenting him to his mother”.
There is nothing more painful to bear than the sadness of death; every death is connected to loss, regardless of circumstance, place and time. A Christian cannot stand indifferent to the grief and sorrow of his fellow man but must hasten and offer the human condolence by word and by deed. But all the human expressions of sympathy remain short, incomplete and unable to offer real consolation to the heart if at its source is not divine. This form of consolation can be obtained by the mournful through prayer, patience, reading of the Divine word of God and hope in the Resurrection of Christ.
The impact of this particular miracle was great on the people, “everyone was overtaken with fear, and glorified God, saying: ‘that we have a great prophet’.” This miracle reminded them of two great prophets of the Old Testament: Elijah and Elisha. They both also resurrected the only Son of widowed women. The first being the son of a widow in the area of Sidon (Kings 17:8-24), and the second, the prophet Elisha caused the son of the woman Shunammite to arise (2 Kings 4:8-37). We must note that the difference between what Jesus did and what the prophets did is that both Elijah and Elisha prayed to God and “God heard them”. But the Lord Jesus is “The Resurrection and Life” (John 11:25). He orders and is obeyed. He brought life to the dead man through His own authority, “because He subjected everything under his feet”.
Christ defeated death by his death, the Saviour on the cross, trampled death by death and gave life to those in the tombs. He promised his believers that in eternal life, “God will wipe every tear from every eye, and death is no more after; and no sadness or screaming or pain because the first things have passed.”
† Metropolitan Basilios Kodseie