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February 2nd, 2009 at 11:12 am

Jesus Raises a Widow’s Son – Luke 7:11-17

First Homily

In last week’s passage, the story of the healing of the centurion’s servant, Jesus and his disciples had come down off the mountain where he had been teaching them, and were in Capernaum, a large village on the sea of Galilee. Capernaum was big enough to require a Roman garrison made up of 80-100 troops. These troops were there to keep the peace and quell dissent, and their commander was called, well, you guessed it – a centurion.

In that story Jesus was approached by elders from the Capernaum synagogue with a request from the local Gentile Centurion whose beloved servant had fallen ill. This Gentile military man, in service of the enemy Rome, had deep insight into and faith in the authority of Israel’s God. And, he had full confidence that Jesus could himself exercise that authority. That is why he called for Jesus. That is why Jesus was astonished.

In the story this week Jesus takes all the initiative. He and the disciples and quite a crowd of followers have left Capernaum and are walking into the nearby town of Nain, which happens to be about five miles from Nazareth. As they are going into town a large group of people is going out. The two groups meet near the city gate. The group coming out is a funeral party. A young man has died and his body is being carried on a funeral platform or bier. His mother, a widow, is walking just in front of the bier. Quite a crowd of people from Nain are part of the procession. Many if not all of the people in the town would have been touched by this young man’s death. There were also professional mourners (if you will) in the crowd, whose job it was to help people grieve. They did this by themselves grieving quite openly and loudly.

The funeral procession is likely on the way to a family owned cave outside of the town. Modern archeologists have found tombs in caves outside of the village of Nain on the road to Capernaum. In the cave the family would further prepare and lay the body to rest. Great care and attention was given to human bodies by the Jewish people.

As Jesus approaches he sees and notices the woman in her grief and distress. First her husband had died, and now her son. Life was hard enough in those days. Being a widow with no grown sons would have even harder.

Jesus has compassion for her, feelings of sympathy and sorrow that would be met by acts of help. He addresses her directly, calmly telling her not to weep. These words that would have seemed very odd except for his quiet authority. Then Jesus steps over and places his hand on the funeral bier. I imagine he did so in a way that said “wait.” Those carrying the bier stood still. Everyone would have been looking right at Jesus. What was this guy who just walked into town going to do?

Second Homily

We left off with Jesus having asked the poor woman who had lost her son not to weep. Then Jesus had set his hand upon the funeral bier. The pall bearers stood still. There would have been a sense of curiosity and maybe a little shock at what Jesus was doing. The Law of Moses was very particular about contact with dead bodies or anything that would have touched dead bodies. Obviously someone had to transport dead bodies to the tomb. There were regulations regarding how one would become clean after such contact.

But Jesus had reached over and put his hand on the bier. Then he began to speak to the young man. “Young man, I say to you, get up.”

We could imagine ourselves at a funeral, the pall bearers taking a casket to a graveside. The body of a very dear loved one is in the casket. A person steps forward and puts his hand up as if to say “wait.” He opens the casket. People are shocked and offended, yet he has their attention. He speaks to what everybody knows is an unresponsive dead body. “Get up.” We see a young man sit up in the casket and brush the dust off his suit. He says “Hi everybody,” and to his mom, “Mom, what’s wrong. Where am I? What’s going on?” Please, picture such a scene without silliness or humor. This is no magic trick or gimmick or joke. The boy’s mom starts crying tears of joy and wonder and disbelief. Everyone is shocked.

People in Jesus’ day knew just as well or better than we do that when a person died they were really dead and they stayed dead. Yes, there had been a few cases in their history when people had been raised from the dead, such as when Elijah the great prophet had raised the son of the widow Zarephath. To everyday pious Israelites in Jesus’ day such an act would be a sign that God had raised up a great prophet like Elijah. It would have been a sign of hope. God had not forgotten his people.

The passage says that Jesus “gave” the now living young man to his mother. This young man’s life now was a gift twice over. It belonged to Jesus really, but Jesus quickly presented the young man to his mom. If only we could hear the conversation they would have had together! The crowd was filled with wonder and dread, the two qualities that arise when God so obviously enters the picture. “A great prophet has arisen among us!” Yes indeed. “God has visited His people.” Yes, indeed. Something was up, something big, And so the people gloried God, and word about Jesus spread.

When Jesus spoke to the dead man on the bier, there was no way the dead man could have heard Jesus unless Jesus had already given him life. Life comes before faith or obedience, for this man and for us.

Third Homily

As we consider this account of the raising of the son of the widow of Nain, there are three details in it that give us pause to think more about Jesus Himself.

First, the funeral party was heading outside of town. Graves were considered unclean places and were generally found outside of the towns and villages. These people had to go outside the gates of the town to bury their loved one in a tomb. Likewise Jesus Himself was also taken outside the city, outside the gate, to the place of His death, to Golgotha, There He was executed by Gentile Roman soldiers. In Jesus’ case he had been rejected by His people and cast outside of the city to suffer agonies no mere man could ever know, cursed and rejected of man and God.

Second, the mother of the young man who accompanied the funeral procession was a widow. Likewise in the crowd following Jesus was his mother Mary, also a widow. Mary’s sorrow would have been even greater than that of the widow of Nain because her innocent son was being brutally put to death in a manner that symbolized curse and rejection.

Third, the young man from Nain was the only son of his mother. He would have been her only begotten. Likewise Jesus was an only begotten. We do not believe here in our church that Jesus was the only biological son of Mary, for we believe that she went on to bear other sons. But Jesus was the oldest son, and Mary well remembered the utterly unique circumstances of His birth. He was “one and only” in another even more important sense. As Mary would come to learn He was “the only begotten of the Father.” He was unique, set apart, holy. And He was something his half brothers were not – Son of the Most High, the Son of God, Jesus, who would save His people from their sins

We consider now this meal which Jesus has given us. The bread and the drink which point us to the death of Jesus outside the camp. There Jesus hangs, dead and cursed, as it were, for us, that we may claim and know the benefits of His darkness and abandonment by His Father.

If you believe you are a sinner in the sight of God, without hope but in His love and mercy, and if you look in faith to Jesus Christ as Savior of sinners, and to Him as your Savior and Lord, we invite you to share in this meal which Jesus gave us. And if you find that you do have faith and you do bow in repentance, if you do hear the call to rise and eat of this meal, give thanks to God for His great mercy unto you. For if this is the case, it was God Himself, while you were dead in your trespasses and sins, who made you alive in Christ, so that you would hear and respond to his call. Amen.

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