This passage in chapter 7 of the Gospel of Luke is a bit like a bookend. It closes off a section of the gospel that begins with Jesus reading in the synagogue in Nazareth and being rejected by his neighbors. There He refers to the prophet Elijah and the miracles he performed for the widow of Sidon. Sandwiched between these two passages is Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain,” a basic primer of Christian moral teaching. When Jesus enters Nain, He is still accompanied by His disciples and the crowds who were with Him on the plain where he preached.Nain lies about 8 miles southeast of Nazareth and is not far from Sidon where Elijah the prophet raised the dead boy to life in 1 Kings 17. Jesus’ raising of the widow’s son in Nain would have immediately evoked the story of Elijah. These people proclaim Jesus to be a prophet, the first such proclamation in Luke’s gospel. The language Luke uses here is identical to the language used in 1 Kings, so clearly the parallel is intentional. His disciples and the crowds are both being given a signal—that the prophecies He made in the sermon are coming true here and now. He is a prophet—and more. “God has visited his people” the people proclaim.
It’s a great story, and there is so much going on with all of Luke’s careful crafting of the parallels with Elijah and with Moses that it’s easy to miss the point. Luke is great for drawing parallels and for those typological connections, and it’s really easy for a scripture geek like me to get caught up in all of that—obviously, since I’ve been expounding on those very notable elements.
Buried in the middle of that passage, though, is a theme that spoke to my heart.
What motivates Jesus to raise the widow’s son? Does He plan this great PR stunt back when He’s at Nazareth being rejected by His own community? Does He see the crowd of mourners mixing with His own followers and see this as a great opportunity to fulfill scripture?
No, He acts because He feels compassion for this widow. He is moved with pity for the woman’s loss. He recognizes the position this puts her in economically, of course, but He also sees the wound that needs to be healed—that whole in her being where she once held her son. She has lost her son, and He returns him to her.
“Blessed are you who weep, for you will laugh.” Do you suppose that amid the clamor there might also have been some laughter that day?
The passage speaks to me because, analogically, I was a lost son and because my daughter and my stepchildren are in some ways “lost.” I’m sure I’m not alone in this experience. Our kids find that the world seems to have so much more to offer—much more than the Church and religion with their long list of NOs. Why listen to a bunch of old men when you could be having fun? It’s common for people have a crisis of faith as adolescents or to be dazzled by material pleasure. So we lose our children—despite our best efforts—to a culture that sells cheap, fake grace. Our children die spiritually.
We’re the ones who mourn and weep. And Jesus responds to that pain—Jesus, a prophet and more, yes—but most of all Jesus, our compassionate savior, who came to mourn and weep with us and then to save us. He will hear our mourning and weeping, and He will bring our loved ones back to life—both in this world and the next.