“This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country” Luke 7:17
Five verbs from the reading from Saint Luke give us insights into the ministry of Jesus and challenge us about our response to him, the five verbs are went, approached, saw, touched and gave.
Saint Luke Chapter 7 Verse 11 says, “Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him.” In the previous verses, we read of the healing of the centurion’s servant in Capernaum and it has caused great excitement, a large crowd has gathered and now they are following Jesus to see what is going to happen next and we are told that “he went to town called Nain.” Jesus is purposeful in what he does, he might have stayed longer in Capernaum, there would have been an attentive audience, but he has clearly a plan to travel from town to town, bringing the Good News. The large crowd were probably mostly curious onlookers, but what about the disciples? As Jesus left Capernaum soon after the healing of the servant, and went to Nain, did the disciples perhaps ask why he was moving on so quickly? Did they doubt the wisdom of going somewhere else when there might have been more opportunities among those who held Jesus in such high regard that they had come to him when the centurion’s servant had become gravely ill? If they had questions or doubts, they did not show them, they instead “went with him.”
“He went,” Jesus has a purpose. Our faith tells us that God always has a purpose, even when our human freewill runs against what he would wish, he will still work out his purpose. Like the disciples, even if we have questions our doubts, we have to follow in Jesus’ way.
The second verb is “approached.” Verse 12 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.” Saint Luke’s telling of the story captures a sense of the thoughtful and considered way in which Jesus undertakes his ministry. “As he approached the gate of the town,” suggests that Jesus does not rush, that he does not move at such a pace that people are left behind. When we read the Gospel accounts, particularly of the final days of Jesus’ ministry, of his final hours in Jerusalem before he was crucified, we see Jesus approaching every moment with care and with prayer.
“Approached,” what lesson is there for us in our own lives? Are we people who want everything here and now? Are we people who rush? Do we make plans that must be fulfilled? Look at Jesus’ ministry and the lives he changes because he is prepared to take time to be with people? The word “approached” should remind us of the way in which Jesus does things, it should remind us of the opportunities we miss, and the hurt we may cause, when we do not take time to be with people.
The third verb is “saw.” Verse 13 says, “When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.'” There is a large crowd of mourners, but Jesus’ focus is on one person, the mother of the young man who had died, the woman who mourns the loss of her only son. There may have been many people in that town grieving the loss of loved ones, many who were seriously ill, but, in the big picture, Jesus never misses the small details. For Jesus, each and every person is of infinite worth, each and every person is a person created in the image of God, each and every person is someone for whom he will die. Jesus saw the widow, Jesus sensed her pain.
Doesn’t the word “saw” challenge us to see all that happens around us? Doesn’t it challenge us to see every person we meet as someone of infinite worth because, whatever we may think, the people we meet are like us, created in the image of God, and, like us, they are people for whom Jesus died. How much different we would be if we saw people as Jesus saw them.
The fourth verb is “touched.” Verse 14 say that, “he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still.” The significance of the word “touched” is probably lost on most of us. The rules of the book of Leviticus, rules by which Jewish people lived, said that someone who touched a body was ritually “unclean,” and, in Leviticus 21, someone who was a priest should not even approach a dead body. Jesus does not need to touch the bier, we know from the story of the centurion’s servant that Jesus does not even need to be with someone in order to heal them. Jesus chooses to touch the bier and to defy the religious rules to make it clear to those who were watching that people were more important than regulations. There would have been people who would have grumbled when they saw what Jesus did, but, for Jesus, the grieving widow and her only son were what mattered.
The verb “touched” should make us think about the rules and regulations of the church. How many of our rules serve Jesus, how many rules are about the authority and power of the church? If Jesus sat in a pew in one of our churches, would he feel that what we do was concerned with him? If our rules and regulations are a cause of hurt to people, we must ask if Jesus himself would have observed them.
The final verb we might think about is “gave.” We read in Verses 14-15, “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.'” What a wonderful way to express what had happened, “Jesus gave him to his mother.” The greatest gift in the world for that grieving widow was to have her son given back to her. There can be no greater gift than life.
Jesus “gave” the woman the life of her son. Jesus’ gift to us is life that lasts forever. What greater gift can there be than eternal life?
Went, approached, saw, touched and gave: each of the verbs describing an action of Jesus asks us about our own actions and our own faith.
In Verse 17, Saint Luke writes, “This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.” Word of all that he had done, word that changed lives then, word that can change our life now.