1 Kings 17:8-24; Psalm 146 (30); Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, Our Creator and Redeemer.
Having recently read the Sermon on the Plain in Luke Ch.6, the stories that follow need to be read in the light of the four ‘blessings’ and the four ‘woes’ in this Sermon. It is a talk where Jesus describes how God will sort out the inequalities and injustices of the world. To live and accept this, as God’s people we are asked and invited simply to love, as God loves and to refrain from judging one another.
The story we heard last week about the healing of the Centurion’s slave is immediately followed with this story, the raising from the dead, of the Widow of Nain’s only son. Luke is giving us graphic examples from the day-to-day ministry of Jesus, illustrating the Beatitudes from Jesus’ talk with images and stories of Jesus ministering to the poor, the bereaved, the excluded and the hungry. So Luke tells us about the Centurion’s servant, the Widow of Nain, the woman who anointed Jesus in the Pharisee’s house and the feeding of the 5,000. He is clearly linking Jesus’ instructions with the actions as Jesus gives first hand examples of what he means.
The Centurion’s slave and the Widow’s son illustrate the first and third Beatitudes: Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God and Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh (Luke 6:20-21).
The connection to the Beatitudes makes Jesus’ response to the bereaved widow of Nain a strong reminder of the oppressive situations he has come to bring to an end to in our world, as the Beatitudes are all about inequity.
This justice theme is clearly laid out throughout all these stories of Jesus’ work in the community.
At Nain, Jesus’ direct intervention and action carries with it a confronting decision to incur an infringement of the purity code – a code that although God given, has also caused considerable hurt and damage in the way it was maintained and implemented by people, distorting its intention and motivation and it had become a way of keeping people in their place, deliberately making a buffer for the elite.
We have seen Jesus in these stories moving to confront this several times already, as he did last week as he prepared to visit the gravely ill slave in a gentile Centurion’s house.
By touching the bier on which the young man was laid out in this story, he acts out of the compassion of God in a way that stops everything in its tracks. It shocks people.
The Widow, who is twice bereft, first by her husband and then by her son is alone and without any resources. A woman such as this Widow would not have been provided for out of her deceased husband’s estate. Inheritance went first to the sons, then daughters, then others on the husband’s side of the family.
At Jesus’ words the bearers stand still and Jesus commands the young man to rise, and when he sits up and begins to speak, Jesus gives him back to his mother. It could not have been more confronting to Israel’s spiritual pride.
It is also in this story that Luke calls Jesus ‘Lord’. Previously, Luke has only used the word ‘Lord’ for God. From here on, the word is interchangeable in addressing God and Jesus as the living God come in the flesh to rescue the suffering out of the hands of the oppressor.
Jesus is clearly being seen as the messianic Jesus, the most powerful of prophets, bringing God’s wishes to life. This particular story ends with Luke saying this story goes out to all of Judea and the surrounding countryside.
The Gospel leaves no doubt Jesus’ fame is spreading throughout the areas in and around the regions of his public ministry.
This story also reminds us, as we heard in the reading this morning from 1 Kings 17:17-24, Elijah’s action in raising the widow’s son from death and returning him to his mother. Both Jesus and Elijah are deeply compassionate and moved by the circumstances. Jesus reacted immediately to the grief of the Widow of Nain with deep compassion. He did not stand at the side of the road and watch the funeral bier go past.
God does not stand apart, disregarding the abject sorrow and broken hearts of the people.
The examples we read in Luke, of Jesus demonstrating the reality and truth of the Beatitudes and the impact of the Woes, and his response to the inequities in the world, have a lot to say to us today.
The inequalities still remain, brim-full of injustice and creating unending suffering through our broken systems and world views.
We see over and over again how Jesus responds to this.
If we are to follow in the way of Jesus, then we will participate in continuing to share God’s mercy with others. This is what Jesus tells us, his disciples to do, not just to love God, but to “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (6:36). It is not enough to call ‘Lord, Lord’; we are also to act on the words he tells us (6:46-47).
So what does that mean to be faithful to Jesus’ words in this story? It means doing what Jesus did, in his name and by the power of the Holy Spirit given by God, freely.
It means walking into the halls of power, especially where power has been corrupted in business, governments, churches and communities, in the backroom deals of political alliances, in the whispered secrets of insider trading, in all the places of greed and favours, nepotism and professional abuses with which we collude if we don’t pay attention, aligning our own needs with the right story.
It means having our eyes open in places where justice should be accomplished, in the modern equivalent to the city gate, where this story of the Widow of Nain’s son takes place, close to the town gates where the judges and magistrates would sit and pass judgement in ancient Israel.
We need to be present in the courtrooms and police stations and legislatures to make sure abuse is not evident, and power is not misused; where the poor are especially vulnerable to overloaded systems and inadequate resources.
I remember attending the court case in Perth of those charged with trespass last year after holding a prayer vigil in a politician’s office over our country’s treatment of asylum seekers. Those who had participated in this peaceful protest were clergy women and men, women with children and older women. They had prayed, sung hymns and offered food and flowers to those in the office.
In court the system and process treated them as faceless offenders without rights and it was as if they were invisible.
The humiliation of strip-searches after they were arrested was in contravention of our own legislation and its acceptance has meant our politicians have deliberately turned a blind eye, to this injustice as well as to the larger injustice. Our acceptance of such treatment of other human beings enables evil to flourish.
It means having our hearts moved with compassion in scenes where poverty and grief prevail, in the wake of private tragedy or natural disaster, in the silent ache of those left behind by addiction or destitution, in the invisible isolation of aging or mental illness, or suicide or job loss.
While it is Jesus who raises people from the dead and includes us in this promise; to the same extent that we can, we must have compassion on the broken hearted, seek justice for the vulnerable, and stand up to the powers and principalities because of our faith in God and relying on God alone. In this way we will have begun to fulfil God’s will for our lives.
Blessed are we who are called to follow in his footsteps.
The Lord be with You.