The 3rd Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 5C (6/9/2013)

Lessons:1 Kings 17:17-24 Psalm 30 (2) Galatians 1:11-24 St. Luke 7:11-17

Semicontinuous Series: 1 Kings 17:8-16 [17-24] Psalm 146 (8)

Prayer of the Day: Compassionate God, you have assured the human family of eternal life through Jesus Christ.  Deliver us from the death of sin, and raise us to new life in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

7:11 Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12 As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” 17 This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

St. Luke 7:11-17. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

The Compassion of God

This weekend’s Gospel lesson is described by a number of English edition Bibles as, “The Widow’s Son at Nain.” It is one of those stories that, due to a quirk in the lectionary, we very rarely study on Sundays. It is assigned to the beginning of the season after Pentecost, and since our lectionary always ends with the same Sundays, these early texts only come up when Easter is especially early. As a matter of fact, in nearly forty years of ministry I have only read this text at worship three times. So it is a relatively unknown text, at least for those of us who follow the lectionary.

It features a poor, unfortunate widow. In those days, there were few social supports for widows. If their extended families weren’t wealthy enough and gracious enough to care for them, they were quite vulnerable. This widow is fortunate: she isn’t alone. She has a son; a grown son it seems. She has some measure of security because of him. Perhaps more importantly, she has companionship and love in her life. But then the unimaginable happens: her only son — her only family — becomes sick and dies. As the story begins in today’s text, she is with a large crowd from the town at the cemetery, preparing to place his body in the ground.

Jesus sees her, and his reaction is strong. It is as if compassion is welling up from the very center of his being. He walks up to the bier where the body lays, he touches the bier, and the young man becomes alive again. He raises him to life, restores the widow’s family, heals her grief, and gives her reason for hope.

We first glimpse this hope in a curious aspect of the story. Did you notice? This poor, grieving widow never once asks Jesus for help. There are plenty of miracle stories where the one in need beseeches Jesus to do something. There are a number of times after performing a miracle when Jesus says: “Your faith has made you well.” (As a matter of fact, that is exactly what Jesus says to the centurion in Capernaum, in the story just before this one.) But not in Nain. Here, Jesus simply sees the pain of a grieving widow, responds with deep compassion, and touches her life with healing and hope. It has nothing to do with her request. It has nothing to do with her faith. It has nothing to do with the quality of her life. It has everything to do with God’s nature, and how that is visible in Jesus of Nazareth.

Our God is one who responds deeply and powerfully to our pain, and finds ways to offer us healing and hope. It isn’t always as dramatic as resuscitation from the dead, but it is every bit as real, and every bit as meaningful. Through the prayers of a friend, a visit in the midst of difficulty, a meal brought to a family in need… in these ways God is just as present in our lives today, as Jesus is for the widow of Nain.

Our God is there, and wanting to help, through any time of need.


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why does Jesus respond to this particular situation?
  2. How is it significant that the widow never asks Jesus for help?
  3. What does the crowd conclude, having witnessed this miracle?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When has God blessed me in a manner I hadn’t requested?
  2. How does God’s nature as one who cares deeply influence my faith life?
  3. When have I been blessed to be the vehicle God used to make a difference for someone?