By The Rev. Sherry Deets
3 Pentecost, Proper 5 – June 9, 2013
1 Kings 17:8-24 and Luke 7:11-17
There are some similarities between our lesson from 1 Kings and our gospel reading. In both cases there is a widow with a son who is dead. In both cases, the son is brought back to life. One by Elijah and the other by Jesus.
Widows held a tenuous position in Jesus’ day. They were often linked with orphans as those without provision in Jewish society. Women lived under the protection of their father’s household, and then of their husband’s household. After the death of a husband, it was customary for the brother or other relative of the deceased to marry the widow. In cases where no male relative from the family of her husband was available, the widow moved to the margins of society and fell vulnerable to alienation and exclusion from the community and the simple daily provision of familial care. And, the death of an only son would leave a widow without an heir and therefore unable to retain whatever means remained for her. Without an heir, all personal property reverted to the husband’s family after his death.
So, knowing that, imagine the grief of a mother who has lost her only son. Now see that this widow’s grief is beyond the normal grief of a mother. She knows that without a male adult in her life she will be kept at a level of dependency even more profound than her current situation. Her son was hope for her later years, and now hope is gone.
And so, Jesus has compassion for her. But interestingly, however, my colleague David Lose notes: Luke doesn’t say “Jesus” had compassion on her, but rather says, “When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’” It’s easy to miss Luke’s subtle change of title here because we are so used to addressing Jesus as Lord, yet this is the first time Luke describes Jesus with this title, and I can’t imagine this was an accident.
Could it be that Luke is not just upping the ante of how to regard Jesus but actually giving us a clue to understanding who the Messiah and Lord really is? I suspect that it’s not just the title “Lord” that helps describe Jesus, but that his act of compassion describes and even defines what it means to be Lord.
To be Lord, that is, is to be vulnerable to the suffering of another. To be Lord is to feel compassion. To be Lord is to not just feel compassion but to act on it, to do something. To be Lord is, finally, to heal, restore, renew, and in all ways to help.
And so Jesus, the Lord and God’s anointed One, sees this widow who has now lost her only son and with him any real chance of survival and Jesus has compassion on her, comforts and encourages her, and then raises her son to new life. That’s what it means to be Lord.
But Luke isn’t done yet. Because he not only gives us insight into what it means that Jesus is Lord, but also invites us to consider what it means for us to be his followers. Notice the reaction of the people. They are first gripped by fear as this incomprehensible miracle takes place, then they glorify God by giving thanks for what God had done, and then they spread word of what they have seen throughout the region.
So here’s my question: If Luke is helping us understand better what it means for Jesus to be Lord — not to be judge but to be merciful; not to be all powerful but vulnerable; not to be stoic or stalwart but to feel compassion; not to be reluctant but to take action to heal and restore — if Luke in this story is laying down the pattern by which one can recognize true Lordship, I wonder if he is also outlining the chief characteristics of discipleship: holy awe followed by praise and thanksgiving followed by sharing with others the source of your amazement and gratitude. Or, more briefly: wonder to thanksgiving to sharing.
In his life and ministry, Jesus healed a lot of people, but he didn’t heal everyone, and he did not heal anyone, once and for all. Those he healed got sick again, and those he raised from the dead eventually died again. The purpose of healing the sick and raising the dead was not to suspend the laws of nature but to bear witness to the power of God over life and death. Miracles are signs of God’s power bearing witness to the sovereignty of God over our lives.
What’s important is not the sign but the One to whom the sign points. And this is a paradox we ought always to keep in mind: When we look for miracles to confirm our faith, we can never quite get enough of them; but when we center our mind and heart on the presence of God, we are able to perceive signs of God’s power and love all around us, not only in the dramatic, unexplained happenings such as instantaneous healings, chance meetings, near-death experiences; but in the more commonplace, yet no-less-miraculous events of everyday life like the dawning of a sunrise, the rebirth of creation in the spring of the year, the transformation of men and women into children of God, the gift of love given, received and shared.
To feel the wonder of God in the fury of a storm, the gentleness of God in the touch of a child, the grace of God in the generosity of others, the love of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is to experience a power greater than yourself and know that your life is secure in God’s hands.
God knows what it means to lose a son. Jesus raised up the son of the widow at Nain as God raised up Jesus from the cross, for our sake, reaching out his hand in compassion for us all. For God so loved the world, that gave his only begotten son. Amen.
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