‘When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her ’ Luke 7:13
Were you a critic, you would have called it a day of interruption, unfairness and gossip. Perhaps there were opponents who did see the day that way, seeing it not as a time God’s grace, but a time in which to find fault with Jesus.
Saint Luke tells us in Chapter 7 Verse 11, Jesus ’went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him’. We can be sure that the large crowd were following for all sorts of reasons, some were genuine followers, some were casually interested, some, undoubtedly, were looking for an opportunity for criticism.
In the town of Nain, there must have been a sense of anticipation. If a preacher with a large crowd was coming, something memorable might have been in the offing; merchants must have been looking forward to the chance of sales of food and drink to these unexpected visitors.
If Jesus and the crowd brought much business to the town of Nain, we do not know, their progress is interrupted. In verse 12, Saint Luke tells us , ‘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’. A crowd heading toward the town, but stopping at the gates, a crowd heading out of the town, to support the widowed mother in her grief, but away from the business of ordinary life; it was not going a good day for the traders.
The critics would have said that Jesus was distracted by the funeral, that he allowed his plan to go to Nain to speak to be interrupted. There were funerals every day, why let one more divert him from his plans? Yet there are often moments when Jesus allows interruptions, there was the woman in the crowd who touched his cloak as he passed on his way to the house of Jairus recorded by Saint Mark, Saint Matthew and Saint Luke; there is blind Bartimaeus sitting on the side of the road from Jericho to Jerusalem in Saint Mark Chapter 10 Verse 46-52, Jesus allows interruptions, he hears the voices of those to whom no-one else listens.
If Jesus is content to be interrupted, to find time for a single person when thousands are clamouring for his attention, shouldn’t churches behave in such a way? When we lose sight of individuals, we lose sight of people who matter to Jesus.
The critics would have complained of Jesus allowing himself to be interrupted and then of his unfairness. We look at verse 13-15, and Saint Luke tells us, ‘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’.
Why? Why raise this young man from the dead? There were people dying all the time, Why respond to a complete stranger? Why choose this grieving mother and not another?
When Jesus talks about being rejected in his home town in Saint Luke Chapter 4 Verse 24, he goes talks about the passage we read as the lesson, from the First Book of Kings Chapter 18, ‘But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.’ It is an acknowledgement that things can seem unfair, sometimes very unfair.
An African friend, returning to very humble circumstances in his home country, spoke to us about his feelings. ‘One day, when we meet in heaven, we shall discover why our lives were so different, why things were as they were’. It was a profound statement of faith in God’s purposes. We cannot explain unfairness, all we can do is to acknowledge, honestly, that it is part of the way things are.
Interruptions, unfairness; the third criticism that the opponents might have levelled against Jesus is that he was a source of gossip. Saint Luke tells us in Chapter 7 Verse 16-17, ‘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’.
‘This word about him spread’. We can be sure that the word that spread would have included eye witness reports of what had happened, but along with truthful accounts, there would have been many other stories, some of them exaggerations of the facts, other would have been stories that were simply lies. It seems part of human nature not to necessarily speak the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
The critics would have accused Jesus of being the cause of gossip, of raising people’s hopes, of being unsettling, disturbing, provocative. But wasn’t it good that people were gossiping about something good, something positive?
If the church is following the example of Jesus, shouldn’t we be a source of good gossip? Shouldn’t people being talking about the positive things happening among us? Or is it that we have nothing good and positive for people to gossip about?
Interruptions, unfairness and gossip—Jesus turns each of them into moments when God’s grace is shown. Following Jesus’ example, we should use the opportunities that come to us in daily life to speak of that grace.