The Shifting Season -The Story of the Widow of Nain

“Every woman has a story AND every woman’s story matters to God.” (Tabitha’s Daughters)

aged ancient asian buddhism

INTRODUCTION

Have you, as a woman of faith, ever asked yourself what separates you from a “good and kind” person that doesn’t believe in God, the Bible, the Church, miracles, or anything else that is connected to what we, as Christians, understand and experience as sacred and holy.  After all, there are people who are decent and even loving, moved to act upon their charitable intentions of doing good works for others, while so-called Christians and religious folk sit on the sidelines deciding the most they are called to do is to pray for the world.  So, what is this “thing” that truly sets the believer apart from those doing good works, and the ones who “believe” in God, but are not compelled to change their lives, or the lives of those in need.

Perhaps the story of a woman in Scripture, the widow of Nain, will lead us to the answers for this particular query, as we navigate our spiritual footing in this most perplexing time, where we are challenged to connect ourselves to the elements of faith, hope, and love, and most importantly, to build a deeper relationship with Jesus, all found in this story written by the evangelist Luke.

And now, THE WORD from our Sponsor…………………………………………………………………………….

Luke 7: 11-17 (NRSV)  “Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him.  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.  When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep” (Some texts say:  “Cease weeping.”)  Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still.  And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise.”  The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.  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!”  This word about him spread throughout Judea and all of the surrounding country.”

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

In chapter seven of the gospel of Luke, the evangelist does what he does best – records the stories of healing, deliverance, and transformation of God’s people by whom Luke calls in chapter seven, “the Lord.” (Greek word is “kyrios.”).  This is the first time in the book of Luke that the author himself refers to Jesus with this divine title.  This name, as the reader will discover, has great significance within his gospel and in particular, the story of the widow of Nain:

“Jesus, the compassionate benefactor of widows [Israel’s most vulnerable group] in the New Covenant, is called “The Lord” – ho Kyrios.  This is the first time the author of the third gospel recognizes him as the Lord and it is not without some significance in the present episode.”   (“Do Not Weep” [Luke 7:13] In the Footsteps of the Compassionate Jesus.” Mary Jerome Obiorah)

Luke connects the story of the widow to a preceding healing, “soon afterwards,” that refers to the healing of the captain’s or Centurion’s slave.  The first crowd, because of Jesus’ reputation as a healer extraordinaire, follows Jesus when he moves from the city of Capernaum to the town of Nain.  As Jesus, the disciples, and the first crowd of curiosity seekers move through the town of Nain, they encounter a funeral procession, led by a widow and a large crowd who knew her and her son.  Then, something curious occurs in the story that should give the reader pause – Jesus tells this mourning mother to “cease weeping.”

At this point, the story becomes the widow’s and Luke compels the reader, by a strong social location writing element, to connect to the widow’s circumstance.  At first glance, Jesus’ command to the mother seem out-of-place and completely insensitive, if it were not for the connecting phrase, “he had compassion for her.”  As they say, Luke’s commentary here makes the world of difference in the narrative.  The idea of “compassion” sets Jesus apart from all the others in the crowd.

Luke uses the word “compassion,”  very sparely and carefully in his gospel.  This word, which is often poorly translated as “pity” or “mercy” is used by Luke’s gospel only three times:  in the healing of Jairus’ daughter, in the resurrection of Lazarus, and here in the story of the widow and her son (also a resurrection).  In each of these cases, life is restored to the individual and to the family/community.  These resurrections are also a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own experience – the one which transforms the entirety of the community of God.

To understand the strength and depth of what Jesus felt for this and all widows of His day,  a word study (etymology) is warranted:

“The Hebrew word for “compassion” whose singular form means “womb” is often used of God in the Old Testament….Thus the Hebrew Bible speaks frequently of God as compassionate, with resonances of “womb” close at hand….To say that God is compassionate is to say that God is “like a womb,” “womb-like,” or to coin a phrase that captures the flavor of the original Hebrew, “wombish.”  Like a womb, God is the one who gives birth to us, the [Mother] who gives birth to us.  As a mother loves the children of her womb, so God loves and feels for us, for all of her children…For Jesus, this is what God is like.” (“Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time.”)  Marcus Borg, pg. 47-48

THE THREE EMOTIONS – WHY THE DIFFERENCE??  

What then, were the crowds “feeling” for the widow – sympathy, empathy, or compassion? In a sense, Luke is compelling us to answer this question because ultimately, Luke will push our spiritual buttons, to persuade each reader to examine ourselves and how we respond to those who are the most vulnerable in our own contexts.

SYMPATHY – To feel sorry for the plight of another.  The first crowd who followed Jesus to Nain may have felt sorry for the widow’s plight.  Acquaint this to a homeless man or woman who you drive past holding a sign, “I am homeless.”  As you drive by the person, you think to yourself, “I feel so sorry for him/her.”

EMPATHY – The second crowd who knew the widow and her son may have felt empathy for her plight. Empathy is to have a greater sense of feeling for the need of another, so that you may act to assist or to help.  Acquaint this to the action of stopping your car and handing out a five dollar bill or even buying the homeless person a meal.

COMPASSION – The English word means, “for suffering.”  This first-hand, front-line response causes the actor to feel what the other person feels, so much so that the actor steps into the condition with the one who suffers, to affect change on the sufferer’s account.  Jesus, by touching the bier and causing an unclean condition onto himself, feels so much for the suffering of the widow, he moves in the power of God, to transform the lives of the widow and her son.

So, the question becomes this:  If Jesus felt compassion for the widow, why does Jesus tell her to “cease weeping” or cease “pouring out her heart?”  Here is where Luke connects the idea of Jesus’ lordship, and the widow’s response/emotion to her son’s passing.  Jesus asks the widow to suspend her grief and to step with him into the possibility and probability of new life.  Jesus asks the widow, by the command of “cease weeping” to shift from her season of grieving to a season of hope and faith, due to the primacy of His presence within her life and her son’s condition.  Jesus shows Himself to the widow, to the son, and to the crowds, as He needs to be seen and experienced, as Lord over the miraculous and the impossible.

In this narrative, we witness the power of divinity in the person of Jesus.  Unlike Elijah who was the spiritual mediator in touch with the Spirit, healing the widow of Zarapheth’s son, Jesus IS THE SPIRIT who has all power to heal and resurrect the dead, as Lord and Savior of His people.

As the widow in the story, we are asked to step with the widow into a new spiritual framework, one whose boundary has moved from a grounded rationality, into the sphere of an intimate, personal, divine relationship with Jesus, that produces the miraculous in our lives.

BUT HOW DO WE GET THERE FROM HERE?????

Most of us, like the widow, have experienced death of a beloved, whether a husband or wife,  son or daughter, a mother or father, a sister or brother, or one whose life we would trade for our own.  Loss, grief, and mourning are a reality for all of us at some time in our lives.  How are we to use the story of the widow of Nain, as our own?  How are we to believe in the resurrection of those whom we loved, when we have not experienced this, as a part of our natural reality?

Perhaps if we think of resurrection in a different way, we may be able to step into the marvelous light with Jesus, locating ourselves with the widow of Nain:  “Following the footsteps of Jesus today, many of us may not be endowed with the supernatural gifts of raising a person from the dead; however, we can in various ways, like Jesus, bring joy to the lives of many helpless persons.  There are many who, like the widow of Nain, are desperately waiting for others to alleviate their suffering.”  (Mary Jerome Obiorah, pg. 213.)[BE YE COMPASSIONATE, AS GOD IS COMPASSIONATE].  Luke 6:36

Most of us have seen the tee-shirt with the writing:  I am my ancestors wildest dream.”  I remember the day I saw a beautiful, young black woman wearing this shirt and how it made me feel.  “Yes,” I thought to myself:  I am the wildest dream of my ancestors.   I am the dream and the hope of the slave.” 

Can you imagine how our enslaved ancestors would feel if  they could “see” the lives which we now live?  Can you imagine their dreams for their progeny, like their lineage being able to read and write, and the realization that so many of their progeny, not only can read and write;  but have advanced degrees from the universities of America?  Consider that the progeny of slaves, black women in this country,  who are not only the most educated sector of America; but also create, as a group, more individually owned businesses than any other sector.

These blessed actions, and so much more, are attached to a communal resurrection of a people; that without God’s intervention, would have NEVER made it through.  Can we imagine together a “different” kind resurrection – one that is indicative of an entire people being raised up by the God who stands on the side of the marginalized, the oppressed, and the vulnerable of society?  If we believe with faith (the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen) and hope (it shall happen in the future, even if we, like our ancestors do not live to see it), we can share in the resurrection of our community – a community of people who confess the power of Jesus and know The Spirit of God lives with us and in us.

The statement of Jesus becomes binary – to the widow and to us.  Jesus asks us not to weep and join Him in the belief and confession that He alone yields the power to resurrect us, no matter what our circumstances.  It begins with the shifting of our faith and hope which ushers in a brand new season:  “It shifts [our] focus of the Christian life from believing in Jesus [and] believing in God to being in relationship to the same Spirit that Jesus knew [and embodies]. (Borg, “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, pg. 39).

It helps us to boldly declare, like our ancestors, “If it had not been for the Lord on our side…….where would we be!”

Questions for our discussion and consideration:

If seems in America, to be compassionate is connected to being “liberal.”  How can we change, if it is possible, the mindset that the poor and marginalized deserve to be so?

What would you say to a person who has decided that there is no hope for change in a world which is so filled with hate, war, and violence?  How would you persuade them to think differently?

What do you think Jesus would say to His church (universal) in the ways in which they have treated the poor, marginalized, and vulnerable?

                                            Our Sending Prayer

Lord Jesus, make me an instrument of Your Peace.

Lord Jesus, make me a vessel for Your Compassion.

Lord Jesus, make me an agent of Your Healing.

Lord Jesus, make me a model of Your Love,

So this world may be transformed into Your kingdom.

In Your precious and holy name. – Amen!

The enclosed materials are the property of Maxine E. Garrett and Tabitha’s Daughter Bible Empowerment Series.  They may be used by you with our permission, which may be revoked at any time.  All copies of the materials must include the following notice:  This material is Copyright [2015] Maxine e. Garrett and Tabitha’s Daughters and is distributed with permission.”

 

 

 

 

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