Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, accompanied by his disciples and a large crowd of people. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was an only son, and his mother was a widow; she was accompanied by a large crowd of mourners. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the funeral bier, and those who carried it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, rise up!” 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 graciously on his people!” Word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
Here we have two great crowds meeting at the town gate, each symbolizing opposing forces. Coming out of the town we see a great crowd of mourners, following a widow woman who has just lost her son. They carry him through the gate on a funeral bier, and according to custom would have held him high into the air, crying loudly and vocalizing their grief in a chaotic mass of wailing and tears. It was the loud, unmistakable sound of human suffering and grief. It was death.
Coming into the town we see Jesus, accompanied by his disciples and a great crowd of people who had just heard Jesus heal a centurion’s slave at Capernaum (Luke 7:1-10). It is unlikely that these witnesses with who Jesus walked carried the clamor and chaos of a funeral procession. No, they had witnessed the joy of healing and restoration. They had seen the remarkable faith of the centurion and his love for his slave first hand. This crowd was a celebratory one. It was the steady, persistent march of renewal. It was life.
At the gate the two collided. Jesus, moved deeply by the widow’s sorrow, tells her not to cry. He touches the bier and tells the dead man to rise. The dead man sits up and speaks! he is restored! Death has given way to life! A new cry sounds from the gathered witnesses: “A great prophet has risen among us! God has looked favorably on his people!” Those who once proclaimed the finality and sorrow of death now proclaim the arrival of Jesus and his grace, compassion, and love. They say he “has risen”, unknowingly pointing ahead to his own victory of life over death. Risen, indeed.
This isn’t a terribly comfortable picture of God, here. All too often we think of God as some far-off, dispassionate other, who is perfect but maintains that perfection through lack of emotion. We assume that God’s knowledge of all events, past, present, and future, render God unaffected by the events occurring in the world. We remove from God what we believe makes us weak and changeable: emotion.
Yet, in this text this God in Jesus Christ reminds us of God’s involvement in our joys and sorrows. Rather than remain far-off, unmoved by our suffering, God joins us in it. Jesus was “moved to the depths of his being”, and we can infer that God is no less moved by our suffering than Jesus was. Ours is a God who meets us in our suffering, speaks a word of comfort in the midst of the struggle, and finally shows us the once-and-for-all victory of life over death.
The Apostle Paul said it this way:
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
And that’s the thing. As we see these two opposing groups meet at Nain’s town gate, we can be confident that Jesus is Lord of both!
* * * * *
First Look is a weekly commentary on the upcoming lectionary gospel text written by Rev. Lee A. Koontz. It is usually published on Mondays.