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Faith was not required of the participants in this story. This one is about Jesus' compassion.
Now it happened, the day after, that Jesus went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with him, and a large crowd. When he came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was with her.
When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, "Do not weep." Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, "Young man, I say to you, arise." So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother.
Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen up among us"; and, "God has visited His people." And this report about Him went throughout all Judea and all the surrounding region. Luke 7:11-17 NKJV, condensed
The Widow of Nain
Bystanders watched that day as two processions approached the city gate from opposite directions. One was going into Nain, happy and full of lively excitement because they were traveling with Jesus. The other going out of Nain to bury the body of a young man, the only son of a widowed mother. We can sympathize with this desolate woman. Losing a son or daughter is the worst kind of sorrow. Losing an only child is unthinkable. Many well-wishers and friends joined this heartbroken mother to lend their support and grieve his untimely death.
What happened when Jesus and the lively throng converged on the mournful funeral march? The difference in mood was shocking, then sobering. How could anyone be joyful when suddenly coming face to face with such a tragedy? According to custom, the dead were buried immediately, on the same day they died. It was the usual cortege, the body taken to the burial grounds far outside the city for health and sanitation reasons. It would be a long walk with many sets of pallbearers taking turns. Lots of time to weep, learn the details of the death and express concern. Professional mourners played their solemn tunes with flutes, cymbals and horns.
Jesus stopped at the gate to wait. Deference is always given to funerals. When Jesus saw the mother's bitter distress, his heart went out to her. Even though surrounded by many people, the young man's death left her, in reality, all alone and devoid of any practical means of future security. Jesus had compassion, felt her pain and entered into her sorrow. No one asked Jesus to do anything. What could anybody do--dying is so final. Death always has the last word.
What did Jesus do? How does he respond? Jesus didn't wait to be asked. To the mother he said, "Don't cry." That may sound cruel to someone in such misery, but I think Jesus wanted her to stop crying so she could see what he was going to do. He intended to wipe those tears away, and present her with a gift no one else could give her.
Next Jesus turned toward the coffin, and touched it. It was an act that probably elicited gasps from attentive observers, creating expectancy that he might do something even here. Others would gasp because touching anything connected to a dead body contaminated the toucher. Which meant, until Jesus fulfilled the purification rituals, he could not come into contact with anything or anyone else without passing on the uncleanness. Jesus refused to allow these "clean and unclean" codes to stand as a roadblock to his compassion. They would not prevent him from performing the life-giving works of God.
The pallbearers stopped and let down the platform from their shoulders. Jesus looked at the young man and began to speak to his dead body as if he were alive. "Arise!" It seems the last word had not been spoken after all. Because he that had been dead sat up, and began to speak words of his own.
With God's good pleasure, Jesus reunited the young man with his mother. Death, like a thief, had snatched him away, but Jesus brought him back again, full of life and good health. By now the two processions had mingled into one large crowd of witnesses. And all who saw it knew they had just seen the very hand of God, abounding with majesty, kindness, and grace.
A fearsome faith came upon the onlookers. Their tears turned into laughter. Their wailing became shouts of joy. News of this miraculous event spread as far as Judea and to all the surrounding areas. Not since the days of the prophet Elisha had the dead been raised. God, seemingly long absent, visited his people once more with love and compassion.
Compassionate God, visit us too with your loving presence. Speak your word that we, like that young man of old, will rise above all that lays us low. Renew our lives with hope and strength. Restore us to those special people you have given us to love and care for. And may we always follow you with joy and thanksgiving.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Relate one experience you had with a funeral.
Describe the death of someone you loved and depended on? What was it like to lose them? How was your life changed after their death? Who do you want to see first when you get to heaven?
Two crowds. One going to a funeral; the other alive and following Jesus. Which crowd are you in? When do you feel like you are in the funeral procession? When are you in step with Jesus?
Jesus had compassion for the widow from Nain. How do you define the word compassion? Is compassion something you commonly associate with Jesus? Why or why not? What things evoke compassion in you? Name some roadblocks which prevent you from showing compassion?
If death is not the final word, then what is the last word? What does it mean for Jesus to be the Resurrection and the Life?
Does Jesus ever say to you, "Don't cry." or "Arise!"? Is so, what were/are the circumstances? What is a gift that only Jesus could give you?
The Gospels record three miracles wherein Jesus raised someone from the dead. This one came first, then the young daughter of Jairus, and finally Lazarus who was the brother of Mary and Martha and a friend of Jesus. Why would Jesus bring someone back from the dead? Why only three and not many more?
Were the bystanders correct in interpreting this miracle as a visit from God? What about the little miracles happening every day. Are they also visits from God?
The city of Nain is believed to be on the slopes of Mount Tabor, in the tribal land of Issachar. It was the same territory where the prophet Elisha brought back to life the son of the Shunammite woman in II Kings 4:8-37. Would this be coincidence? Or did Jesus plan it that way? Do you see similarities or contrasts in these two stories?