TEXT — Luke 07: 11–17 — Raising to life of son of widow of Nain
A dead man is carried to burial
11: Soon afterward he went to a city called Na’in, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. 12: As he drew near to the gate of the city, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a large crowd from the city was with her.
“Young man, I say to you, arise.”
13: And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14: And he came and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15: And the dead man sat up, and began to speak. And he gave him to his mother.
“A great prophet has arisen among us!”
16: Fear seized them all; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” 17: And this report concerning him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.
11: Soon afterward he went to a city called Na’in, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him.
“Soon afterward he went to a city called Na’in, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him” — “Soon afterward” refers to after the cure of the centurion’s slave which Luke records in the previous verses (Lk. 7: 1–10).
“Nain” was a village about six miles south–east of Nazareth. The Hebrews did not have a word for ‘town’ and often described a town or large village as a “city”.
“a great crowd” — Luke stresses the size of the crowd to which he will add “the large crowd from the city [“village” as already explained]” who were the mourners and the numbers of others who gathered at the gate of the city.
12: As he drew near to the gate of the city, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a large crowd from the city was with her.
“As he drew near to the gate of the city” — “the gate of the city” was where much of the life of a village, town and city, such as meetings, business deals, and judgements, took place. There would be a considerable number of people there. This enhanced the size of the two large groups mentioned in the passage.
“behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother and she was a widow” — As a widow, having lost her husband and now her only son, she would have no economic support. She could look forward only to a bleak, impoverished future. The family line had come to an end and that was an additional sorrow for the mother and grounds for compassion on Jesus’ part. There was no one now to defend her, support her or take her case in hand. A large crowd accompanied her. No doubt these were people of her own social status. She is a figure–head of the poor and destitute, those truly in need.
“and a large crowd from the city was with her” — Two large crowds travelling in procession meet. Jesus is the leader of one; the other is led by the poor widow burying her only son. The former is a procession of life; the latter one of death.
13: And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14: And he came and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still.
“And when the Lord saw her” — “The Lord” is a title that refers to the risen Jesus. He is about to do something divine. This is the first of eighteen times Luke uses the title in his Gospel (Lk. 10: 1, 39, 41; 11: 39; 12: 42; 13: 15; 17: 5–6; 18: 6, etc.). It is very fitting that it should be used in this passage where Jesus will raise the young man to life, a foreshadowing of his own resurrection.
“he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep’” — Jesus is deeply touched by the widow’s loss, her “only son”. He does not say much to her; he acts. As one on his way to Jerusalem and crucifixion it is not beyond credibility that he thought of his own mother accompanying him to the tomb in a short time.
In Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, referred to as the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus had instructed his disciples to be “compassionate as your Father is compassionate” (Lk. 6: 36). Here is a real lesson in practical compassion.
“And he came and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still” — No one asks Jesus to do anything. He takes the initiative and stops the funeral. By touching the bier Jesus became ritually unclean (Nm. 19: 11, 16). His compassion for the mother was greater than his respect for this particular law, knowing that he was about to do something great, restore life to a dead man.
And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15: And the dead man sat up, and began to speak. And he gave him to his mother.
“And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise’ And the dead man sat up, and began to speak.” — “Arise” is a word linked with the resurrection. See Lk. 5: 23–24 (the paralytic), 6: 8 (the man with the withered hand), 7: 22 (“the dead are raised up”). By mentioning that the young man “began to speak” Luke shows that he was fully restored to life.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “Jesus links faith in the resurrection to his own person: ‘I am the Resurrection and the life.’ It is Jesus himself who on the last day will raise up those who have believed in him, who have eaten his body and drunk his blood. Already now in this present life he gives a sign and pledge of this by restoring some of the dead to life, announcing thereby his own Resurrection, though it was to be of another order” (CCC, 994).
“And he gave him to his mother” — These words are the exact words used by Elijah when he raised the son of the widow of Zarephath to life, “Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.” So the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth” (I Kgs. 17: 23–24). The mother declared Elijah to be a prophet. The crowd realised the similarity between the two scenes and in verse 16 will declare Jesus to be a prophet.
See also II Kgs. 4: 8–37 where Elisha the prophet raised the son of the Shunammite widow.
16: Fear seized them all; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us! and “God has visited his people!” 17: And this report concerning him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.
“Fear seized them all” — the word “fear” describes not terror but awe, wonder, amazement. This induces the reaction of glorifying God.
“and they glorified God” — They glorified God, not Jesus. To “glorify God” is to acknowledge God’s divinity and it is the normal reaction of people who witness God working among them (Lk. 5: 25–26; 13: 13; 17: 15; 18: 43; 23: 47).
“saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’” — This means that a great prophet has been appointed (Jdg. 2: 16; 3: 9; Dt. 13: 1). They recognise Jesus as a prophet like Elijah and Elisha who raised young men, whose mothers were widows, to life.
Jesus as prophet is a theme in Luke’s Gospel. (i) He may refer to himself as having the characteristics of a prophet (Lk, 4: 24; 13: 33). (ii) Jesus having the power of a prophet is mentioned in Lk. 7: 16, 39; 9: 8–9, 19; 24: 19. (iii) He acts as a prophet, speaking in the name of his Father, on about fifteen occasions.
“and ‘God has visited his people!’” — This is a phrase from the Old Testament. It means that God has come close to his people and the kingdom of God is at hand (Lk. 1: 68, 78; 7: 16; 19: 44).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Christ’s compassion toward the sick and his many healings of every kind of infirmity are a resplendent sign that ‘God has visited his people’ and that the Kingdom of God is close at hand. Jesus has the power not only to heal, but also to forgive sins; he has come to heal the whole man, soul and body; he is the physician the sick have need of (CCC, 1503).
“And this report [literally, ‘this word’] concerning him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country” — Jesus’ fame is spreading throughout a large area.
- What does this passage tell us about Jesus?
This short passage teaches us five things about Jesus:
(i) Jesus is Lord, which means that he is divine and has the power of God over life and death.
(ii) Jesus is the expected Messiah. This is the message he sent to John the Baptist who had his disciples query Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come or must we wait for someone else? (Lk. 7: 22). “And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them” (Lk. 7: 22). These were signs indicating that the promised Messiah has come.
(iii) In and through Jesus God has visited his people. This is a common biblical expression meaning that God has come to examine the peoples’ situation and will act as necessary to relieve them. God has concern for his people.
(iv) Jesus is a person of deep compassion, moved by the sufferings of others, especially those who are weak. He cannot be neutral but must act to do what is needed.
(v) Jesus has come to bring salvation to the living and the dead; our God is loving, he heals and saves. In Luke’s Gospel; this is a sign that he forgives sin. The Fathers of the Church, the early writers, saw in the widow a symbol of Mother Church weeping for her children who are dead by sin but could be restored to life by Jesus if they would be in contact with him.
Because the crowd declared him to be a great prophet, like the greatest of the prophets, Elijah and Elisha, we ask the question, ‘was Jesus a prophet?’
“Prophetes”, the Greek word for ‘prophet’, means ‘one who speaks before others’. Jesus never presented himself as a prophet because he is the Messiah, the promised one foretold by prophets. He spoke with the authority of his Father but also with his own authority (“Truly, truly, I say to you…”) which the prophets could not do.
- Physical and Spiritual Death
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that “Death is the end of man’s earthly pilgrimage, of the time of grace and mercy which God offers him so as to work out his earthly life in keeping with the divine plan, and to decide his ultimate destiny” (CCC, 1013). People are given a life–time to decide on accepting or rejecting God’s invitation to live the life taught by Jesus. Life is the time when each decides on living with or without God in this life and in the next. “God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want ‘any to perish, but all to come to repentance’” (CCC, 1037).
One of the deeper messages from this passage is that death as such does not separate people from God. St Paul states this and enlarges: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm. 8: 38–39).
What does separate us from God is mortal sin. God wants to and can raise people who are dead in sin to return to his life. Indeed, in the story of the “Prodigal Son” or “Merciful Father”, Luke has the father say twice that “my son was dead and is alive again” (Lk. 15: 24, 32). Just as Jesus raised the widow’s son to life, God’s compassion can raise the sinner to share in God’s life. Sin is the only thing which can separate us from God and he can forgive sins (Lk. 7: 36—8: 3). There is always hope. What is necessary is that the sinner who chooses to cut him/herself off from God makes the decision to come back and seek forgiveness.