Luke's wonderful writing highlights several important aspects of this story. First and foremost was the fact that this woman was a widow and this man was his mother's ONLY son. She had no other means of support. In Jesus' day women did not have the vast resources and opportunities available to them that many of us have today. If they lost the income of their husband or children, and there was no extended family to take them in, they had two options. The first was begging; the second was prostitution. So when Jesus and His disciples approached this funeral, led by its professional mourners and accompanied by the townsfolk, they were coming upon a scene of desperation.
Luke emphasizes that Jesus SEES the widow. This word, esplagchinisthe (just try and pronounce that one!), means to see physically as well as to be moved inwardly; to yearn with tender mercy, affection, pity, empathy and compassion. It is the deepest movement of emotions from the deepest part of one's being. There is no stronger word in the Greek language and it is used time and time again concerning Jesus. When Christ saw this woman He was moved in the deepest part of His heart. This caused Him to touch the funeral bier (generally a wicker pallet used to carry the body to the grave), a complete no-no according to the Torah.
Luke records that Christ spoke directly to the man. You can imagine what thoughts were entering the minds of those in attendance! (This guy must be crazy comes to mind.) However, to their surprise, the man responds by anakthizein, a special medical word which describes a person who gets up after a long illness. The immediate understanding among the on-lookers is that only God can make this happen. Because of their location the people are familiar with the story of Elisha and immediately connect Jesus with the prophet. Luke even uses a phrase right out of the Elijah story (1 Ki. 17: 8-24) in saying that Jesus gave the man "back to his mother" (1 Ki. 17:23). The reaction of the crowd is similar to the stillness that falls over sports fans when an athlete is severely injured on the playing field. Everything is quiet as the medical personal attend to the athlete’s needs. But when the player gets up and is able to walk off the field an enthusiastic round of applause breaks out. The funeral crowd is deeply in awe and although they misidentify Christ as a prophet, they nonetheless give credit to God.
It would be easy to let this story go at face value and store the information in a mental file named "Cool Things I Learned About Luke 7" and a month or two later forget what was in the file. Disciples (which you and I are) don't do that. We must move the information into application by looking at Jesus and doing what He did. To truly be a disciple, it means more than compassion, it means touch. Although considered "unclean" Jesus was willing to touch the bier and speak the words of life into a dark and desperate situation. We also speak for Christ. We are His hands, feet and body. An effective disciple not only speaks the words of life to a dead world, he or she reaches out and touches it as well. Our compassion must be coupled with actions, otherwise, as James would say, our faith is dead (Js. 2:17) and useless. What or who will move you to respond as Jesus did? Be willing to move when you see "the widow of Nain" in your world.
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
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