Tenth Sunday Year C – Introduction and lectio divina on Lk 7, 11-17
Jesus performed an extraordinary miracle, the raising from the dead of the widow’s son, without demanding faith from the woman, but solely out of compassion. Jesus could not but intervene on behalf of the mother, because he could not resist his own need to show compassion. The people were astonished for they knew that only God could give life. They recognised God’s loving care in the figure of the prophet. Jesus did not pray to God in private for the young man’s return to life, as Elijah had done. Jesus prayed in public. Victory over death can only be acknowledged by praising God.
For us to live giving glory to God, it is enough to know that God, who is ever merciful towards us, does not wait for us to ask for his help. It might seem strange, but we need to rediscover our commitment to prayer. We need to regain the salvation that Jesus brings. However, we do not always need to ask for healing. It is enough for us to accept that we cannot sustain life by ourselves. To persuade God to intervene, it is enough for us to acknowledge that we need his help.
At that time: Jesus went to a city called Nain, 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. 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. 16 Fear seized them all; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen 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.
I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focusing on how it says it.
After the account of the cure of the centurion’s servant, who was dying and without hope, (Lk 7,1-10; cf. 2 Kings 5,1-14; Elisha), the evangelist introduces Jesus who can raise even the dead (Lk 7,11-17; cf. 1 Kings 17,20-24; Elijah). The miracle is almost unique in the Gospel tradition which has only two cases of raising the dead (Jairus’ daughter Lk 8,40-42. 49-56; Lazarus: Jn 11). Luke follows his usual practice, following a miracle in favour of a man with another one in favour of a woman, both of them socially marginalized – a pagan man and a widow. Both miracles confirm through the action of Jesus that God is visiting his people (cf Lk. 4,25-27). In fact, the people, on witnessing both miracles, recognise that Jesus is a great prophet and this recognition spreads throughout Galilee and Judea.
The difference between the two episodes draws attention to the power without precedent that Jesus displays in both cases – a very clear expression that is absolutely gratuitous. The miracle wrought by Jesus on behalf of the pagan centurion came as a consequence of his faith in Jesus’ words. The raising of the widow’s daughter was, in contrast, a personal initiative of Jesus. In both cases the evangelist stresses the fact that Jesus was accompanied by his disciples, but the presence of the crowd is important. He refers frequently to the crowd. They, not his disciples, were the ones who recognised God in the presence of his Son.
The sad event that occurred in the life of a small village is reported briefly and in a matter of fact way. Jesus’ entry to the village coincides with a funeral leaving it. The account emphasizes the initiative of Jesus. This is the first time in the Gospel that he is called Lord (Lk 7.13). Jesus saw the widow and her need, and he felt compassion for her. He drew near the bier and touched it. He told the young man to get up and he gave him back to his mother. Jesus healed him without seeing the mother’s faith, but the son had to obey. It was the Lord’s first triumph over death. No one had asked for a miracle. Nobody imagined that Jesus had such power, a power that was reserved to God alone. It was not the mother’s need, nor her faith, but only Jesus’ compassion for her, that led him to reveal his divine power.
II. Meditation: apply what the text says to life
To understand the miracle worked by Jesus we need to know the social situation of a widow in Israel. It was a patriarchal society. A woman was important only as wife and mother. A widow depended on her son. When she lost her son, the widow of Nain found herself completely insecure and in total poverty. Socially she had no value and counted for nothing. This is the woman Jesus met, an insignificant person. All she had was her sorrow and her anxiety for the future without a son. To this widow who had asked for nothing and had not even dreamt of a miracle, Jesus handed back her son, restored to life.
The episode records an important detail: it is true that there had been no request from the widow, but she did awaken compassion in the heart of Jesus: “when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her: ‘Do not weep.’” He did not want to see her suffering. Before approaching the dead man and ordering him back to life, he told the mother not to be sad. He ordered her not to weep, because he knew that he could return her son to her alive. The mother was able to find joy because she had the good fortune to meet by accident the man Jesus, who had compassion on her even though he had never seen her before. He restored her joy. That is what Jesus did for the widow long ago, and he can do the same for us today.
When we recall this incident from the life of Jesus, we should get excited because we know that we can count on a God who does not remain unmoved when we are sad. He has compassion on us. Our God is not insensitive to our suffering. He intervenes when he finds us weak and lonely, even if we do not ask. That mother had the good fortune to meet Jesus while she was accompanying her son to his grave. It was certainly not a happy occasion. There was no need for her to guess who the man was, or even to desire a miracle. She did not hide her suffering and Jesus could not hide his compassion.
If we do not find consolation on meeting Jesus, could it be because we do not bring our suffering to him? We come into his presence without arousing his compassion, because we hide from him the cause of our suffering and sorrow. We do not follow him closely enough to allow him to enter into the most intimate part of our lives. We have come to know him as a person, but we have not allowed him to see our failings and our sorrow. And so we continue to suffer, thinking we have gained nothing from being with him. If Jesus no longer works miracles on our behalf, it is not because we do not ask him, but because we give the impression that we don’t need his help, that everything is all right, that we have no problems. What need have we of a saviour? The Lord in whom we believe is the God revealed in Jesus, a man who is compassionate to all who suffer, and who intervenes even when he is not asked. If this is what we believe, if this is what the Jesus of the gospels is like, why is he not like this for us?
Being able to count on a compassionate God, who cannot allow suffering in his presence, is the best assurance for someone who has lost something very important, someone who is dear to us, or something we cannot do without. This should bring us to discover the God who accompanies us in all our suffering, who does not leave us alone in our grief, who suffers with us on account of our loss and is able one day to restore what we have lost. However, it is not enough just to boast of a compassionate God! Anyone who does not learn to show mercy, is not worthy of such a God.
Certainly one of the most urgent needs of our day, and one of the most important testimonies Christians ought to give, is compassion towards those who suffer most. The believer who is unmoved by the tears of another, and does not show solidarity with those who suffer, has no legitimate excuse. Unfortunately, we Christians often give the impression of being insensitive and lacking compassion. We pass by, noticing the misfortunes of others, without being moved to compassion. We tell ourselves they deserve it, and it has nothing to do with us, without realizing that all human suffering is our concern. An attitude of indifference is not worthy of a Christian. A lack of mercy and compassion is not what people expect from a follower of Jesus, who took pity on all who were suffering whenever he met them. He did not stop to ask himself if their suffering was deserved, or even if they wanted his help.
Society today is probably more equal, less unjust than in previous centuries. However, it is not more human, or more caring. The mission of Christians today is to be more sensitive to suffering, and to ensure that our world does not neglect the suffering of some of its members. We should never forget that suffering, pain and death come to all of us. This means that compassion, mercy, care for the sick and the little ones, are our common patrimony. Faced with suffering, be it small our great, we Christians have a duty in this life, to become more like Christ, and so receive our reward in the next life. There is no point in claiming that we have a Lord who is compassionate to us when we suffer, if we do not ourselves show compassion for the suffering of others. Jesus was a merciful man, who did not wait to be asked to intervene. He did not insist on a specific request before responding to the needs of the people he met.
How can it be that we Christians are known more for our severity than for our mercy, are quicker to condemn than to understand, more likely to remember an offence than to willingly forget it? Every misfortune, and every misfortunate person we meet, should be for us a call to compassion, a challenge to be what we say we are – disciples of Jesus. It cannot be right for us to expect God to intervene in our misfortunes, if our neighbour cannot count on us to do something to help him in his misfortune. Jesus tells us in advance that, on the last day, we will be judged on the mercy we have shown in this life, and not on what we have earned. At the final judgment, our sins will not be overlooked if we have neglected our neighbour in difficulty. We cannot hope that God will take care of us if we do not take care of those who are suffering around us. We do not need Jesus to show us, nor to pass by the village of Nain, in order to know who the people are who need our help or our consolation. Wherever we see people who are suffering, we are called to share their pain, to give them our time and our attention. People today suffer in solitude and in silence. They have learned to hide their suffering. We should give some of our time to tending their wounds and healing their spirit. In this way, the world will know that Jesus is near, that God has visited his people, and that we carry him in our hearts.