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.’ 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 favourably on his people!’ This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country. (NRSV).
Not all the miraculous healing stories of Jesus are recorded in full. Indeed, most of his acts are caught up in the anonymity of summary statements. Sometimes whole tours are covered in a couple of lines.
And then there are times that specific encounters are described in all their glory.
The raising of the unnamed widow’s only son from the dead is one of the latter. And rightly so.
After all, the encounter between Jesus and the funeral procession exiting the town of Nain takes our understanding of Jesus to a whole new level. A weeping widow; a dead son; a procession to take the body from among the living. It is a scene of despair and hopelessness. No one is occupying the fantasy of turning the clock back. They are moving towards the tomb to do the only thing they can: bury.
Theirs is a procession of resignation. Another tragic loss to death.
Most of Jesus miracles are requested. People approach the famous travelling Rabbi and ask for his intervention. Jesus has developed the habit of naming these requests as faith.
But this is not a requested miracle.
Indeed, how could it be? The man is gone and no one can imagine changing the fact. If they could respond more positively they would.
But this man’s life is gone. These friends act as positively as they can: they weep and move together toward the grave.
No, Jesus does not move to toward the body at the request of anyone. He touches this body for reasons that is all his own.
Jesus reaches out on his own. Luke names it ‘compassion’.
Our Messiah was moved to the core by this scene. His gut was twisted by it.
More specifically, he was moved by this weeping widow.
Perhaps this is why Jesus approaches her first. If it were not for the miracle he is about to perform his words would seem embarrassingly shallow, hollow – even callous: ‘Do not weep’.
Her life has taken the most disasterous of paths. Her future is less certain than ever. All she has is these tears.
But Jesus brings weight to his words. He moves forward when no one else can. He touches and speaks when all voices have fallen to silence.
And ‘…the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother’.
Jesus’ act takes everything to a new level. He is no longer merely an astonishing healer. The miracle effectively heightens the crowd’s fear – even as they sing their praises to God: ‘A great prophet has risen among us!…God has looked favourably on his people!’
Surely no one there that day was quite ready for this. Indeed, it is even a shock for Luke’s readers. This is no unexplainable healing. It is a defeat of death.
No wonder ‘this word’ – this story – spread. It would be a hard-hearted witness indeed who would refuse to share!