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Jesus’ Treatment of the Widow of Nain

by David Gray, June 9, 2013
In today’s Gospel reading at Mass from Luke 7:11-17 we hear about an event that took place near the city gates of Nain. There seems to have been a large burial procession of man who was the only son of his widowed mother. When Jesus saw the mother following behind her son’s coffin the text tells us that, “he was moved with pity for her,” and told her “Do not weep.” He then halted the procession and told dead man, “Young man, I tell widows son nainyou, arise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, exclaiming, “A great prophet has arisen in our midst, ”and “God has visited his people.”

The text informs us that the dead man arose and spoke, but it doesn’t tell us exactly what he spoke. Yet, you have to bet that it had to be very interesting what the first thing he said and did after he realized that he was in a coffin and burial garments. Maybe the text has to keep it silent, because he awoke and said, ‘What the $%*#’.

I would like to think that if I woke up in my coffin and wearing my favorite suit I wouldn’t have anything to say whatsoever, other than scream to the top of my lungs. Some people might be hungry; others might faint; and some might just be happy to see that someone actually showed up to their funeral. But this man seemed a bit loquacious, and that’s perfectly fine.

There are a couple interesting things I’d like to point out in this narrative. The first is that seeing a funeral procession wasn’t a rare occurrence for Jesus. I’m sure He saw them all of His life, but at this moment, it wasn’t the dead man, rather, it was the widow mourning for her only son that moved Jesus to console her, by restoring to her what she had lost. Where it says, “Jesus gave him to his mother” reminds me of how He gave the disciple He loved to His mother when He was being bring crucified (Cf. John 19:26-27). Also like Mary, this wasn’t a favor that the widow came to Jesus to ask for, nor was it one that anyone else ask on her behalf. To the contrary, it was an unmerited, voluntary, loving, and gratuitous gift from God.

Indeed, who would our God be if He refused to know us and anticipate and answer our needs without us having to ask for them all the time? While it is worthy of God to pray to Him and invite Him into our fears and concerns, He would not be God if He always needed our invitation for Him to love on us.

The second thing I found interesting was the exclamations from the crowd. ‘The crowd’ in the Gospel narratives always have the best and the worst things to say about Jesus. One moment they are chanting “Hosanna” and the next moment they are yelling, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” In this narrative, after Jesus brought the widow’s son back to life, they said, “A great prophet has arisen in our midst,” and “God has visited His people.” They see Jesus here as a new Prophet Elijah, who awoke the son of the widow of Zarephath from the dead (Cf. 1 Kings 17:17-24). Indeed, another tendency of ‘the crowd’ is their penchant to always simultaneously know and not know (the fullness of) who Jesus is. God had done much more than visit His people. In Christ Jesus He was born of the flesh of His people and had truly become one of them, so that they might become one with Him. Jesus wasn’t just a great miracle-working prophet, He is God.

Like ‘the crowd’, we too have a tendency not to recognize the magnitude of divine encounters in our life. Sometimes when we are favored by the impossible, it seems to us that what just happened was too powerful to discern. Out of fear sometimes we ignore divine encounters because we sense that to truly understand them might result in the consequence of having to give them their due response, which is our obedience.

The call of today’s Gospel is to be open to God being God in our life, and moving beyond just a cursory attention to what He is doing in our life, and into a continual prayerful consideration of how God is efforting to participate in our lives by drawing us into cooperating with His.

As you Reflect on the Readings at Mass Today, Consider these Questions:

  1. What were some of your initial thoughts and praises after Christ Jesus awoke from your spiritual sleep?
  2. Outside the gate of the city is where you can find all of the sick and outcasts, and this is where Jesus approaches and moves to have mercy on another marginalized person in society – a widow. How are your eyes of mercy? How often to you approach places of reproach and woe to bring Jesus?
  3. Who is Jesus to you? Do you know feel that you know Him truly in His fullness (Savior Lord, Prophet, King, and Priest), or just the aspects of Him you want to know?

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PSALM 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13
I will extol you, O LORD, for you drew me clear
and did not let my enemies rejoice over me.
O LORD, you brought me up from the nether world;
you preserved me from among those going down into the pit.

Sing praise to the LORD, you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger lasts but a moment;
a lifetime, his good will.
At nightfall, weeping enters in,
but with the dawn, rejoicing.

Hear, O LORD, and have pity on me;
O LORD, be my helper.
You changed my mourning into dancing;
O LORD, my God, forever will I give you thanks.

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Scripture texts in this blog are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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