June 9 2013, Proper 5C
The Rev. Kate Ekrem
Recently I saw a very useful top 10 list, top 10 things not to say to someone who’s lost a loved one. It was great, because often are very uncomfortable talking with someone who is grieving, they don’t know what to do or say, so they worst things come out of people’s mouths sometimes, and this article listed what to avoid saying, like “God just needed another angel in heaven” or what have you. On the lsit were things like “I know just how you feel” – no you don’t. And “he’s in a better place now” – actually, with me is the place where I want my loved one to be. Also on that list, was “don’t cry.” I mean, can you imagine, saying that to someone, for example a widow who has just lost her only son? But that’s exactly what Jesus does say. I mean, who let this guy on the pastoral care team?
This interaction Jesus has with the widow who has lost her son is very interesting, it’s different, not like any other story in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus is coming into town with a group of his disciples and they encounter another group, a funeral procession. Just like every other funeral procession that’s ever happened, they happen every day, in every place. Probably even today, perhaps as we sit here right now a processing of cars is leaving Douglass funeral home and turning left on Bedford Street on its way to Westview Cemetery. And in the middle of this comes Jesus, and he stops it. He puts out his hand, touches the bier that the pallbearers are carrying, and it all freezes.
Why? Well, what makes this story different from all the other healing stories in Luke is that the woman, the widow, has not asked for anything. Unlike the centurion we had last week, and all the other characters we encounter in Luke’s Gospel, she never asks for help and never expresses faith. Jesus reaches out and stops the funeral procession because, the scripture says, he has compassion, he has compassion for her. She doesn’t do a thing, she just had a need. She’s lost her only son, all the family she had left, and Jesus’s heart goes out to her. You know, usually, we don’t get a lot of Jesus’ inner life in the Gospel stories, very rarely to the gospel writers ever mention what Jesus was thinking. But here we are told, Jesus had compassion for her. Let me correct that. Not Jesus had compassion, but the Lord had compassion, The first time that word, Lord, is used in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus is Lord, becomes Lord, when he has compassion for this woman’s need and acts to help her.
I want to pause and contrast this story not only with the other healing stories in Luke where typically someone says, Jesus, help me, I believe in you so heal me! But also with the story from the Hebrew scripture today of Elijah raising the son of the widow of Zarephath. Elijah raises widow’s son because what happened to her was, in his view, not fair. Of course, we can easily say that any mother losing her son is just plain not fair, but Elijah thinks this case is special because it wasn't fair for the widow and her son to suffer in a drought that was meant to punish the people of Israel, not them. And also it’s not fair, Elijah thinks, for her to suffer after she did a good deed by feeding him. So Elijah pleads her case to God. But there’s nothing about justice or fairness in story about the widow of Nain that Jesus reaches out to. For all we know, she could be a mean person who turns away hungry prophets and kicks her dog, we don’t know. But there’s no indication that she especially deserved Jesus’s attention due to a good deed or not fair due to certain circumstances. Jesus raises son from compassion, not justice. (This para inspired by Jessie Zink blog entry).
So Jesus stops this funeral procession for no other reason than he has compassion, that he gives unmerited, unearned, unasked for care and help. And he says to the widow, do not weep. And he says to the son, rise. Maybe he could get away with this top 10 not to say comment because he knew what would happen next. He knew that truly the woman had no need to cry. Because were Jesus comes, bringing his compassion, comes resurrection and new life.
So, what do the people do? I could draw the obvious conclusions here that I hope you already know, that our God, our Lord, is the one who offers compassion and unmerited, unasked for grace and mercy to all, that our God is the one who brings resurrection and new life in the midst of our doubt and despair, but hopefully you know that already, so let’s look at, what do the people do? All the people in that funeral procession? They praise God, they thank God, and they spread the word.
We've all, probably, sadly, been part of a funeral procession. But I think we’ve all also seen signs of God’s compassion, God’s healing, God’s new life. Maybe it was not as dramatic as someone rising from the dead. But you've seen God’s presence and grace in action, if you keep your eyes open, if you pay attention, you can see it. What does it look like? How does it feel?
Where have you seen God’s compassion and healing and new life? Maybe not a person literally raised from the dead, but some other sign of God’s presence and action – what did it look like? I know you have because so many of you have told me the stories about a miraculous change of heart, about a healing that was unexpected, about a repaired relationship, about a door opening when another door was closed. Think about those moments for a minute. What happened? How did you feel? How did you, do you, praise and thank God? And can we now, this day and every day, go forth from this place and spread the word. Because every day there is a funeral procession. Every day there is a widow or someone in need, who needs the hands of Christ, our hands, to reach out and say stop, don’t cry, Christ is risen and you will be, too.
Working Preacher by David Lose
Jesse Zink’s blog “Mission Minded” http://jessezink.com/blog/