The Compassionate One

widowOne of the most distinguishing characteristics of Jesus is that he paid attention.  He paid attention to people and their behaviors so closely he often knew what they were thinking or feeling.  He paid attention to what was going on around him so much that he could talk knowledgeably about farming practices, fishing, politics, even taxes.  He paid attention to the sick, the dying, the marginalized so carefully that he was able to reach them in ways no one else could.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus encounters a widow who lost her son. Many details reveal the power and depth of Jesus’ words and deeds. Jesus has power over life and death; he clearly chooses life for this widow. Her life was not to wane upon losing her “only son.” His death became the occasion for Jesus to take the initiative in proclaiming God’s desire that we share life to the fullest. The cadence and rhythm of his words and deeds move us toward the celebration of life and hope.[Living Liturgy, 2013]

The widow of Nain had lost everything dear to her: her husband and her only son. By losing her husband, she had lost her life support; at that time most women were totally dependent upon their husbands for livelihood. She had a son, and he no doubt supported her after his father’s death. Then he dies and any hope of posterity ceases. She is utterly alone; she is now the last in her ancestral line. The widow and a “large crowd from the city” were processing to bury her son. Without even being asked, Jesus with great compassion comforts her, touches the son’s coffin, raises her son from the dead, and gives him back to his mother. By word and deed Jesus restores the widow’s life and hope. She is no longer alone in this world without support and hope of posterity.

In Jesus “God has visited his people.” He brings gifts that are only God’s to give: life and hope. No wonder news of Jesus’ words and deeds spread rapidly! In him something new is happening. Death is not an end, but a sign of God’s power and saving grace. In Jesus God continues to visit us, offering hope and life, even without our asking. Do we accept?

God visits us in Jesus with new life and hope, for example, when the pain of a child’s death is eased through prayer and faith in God’s promise of eternal Life, and the support of family and friends; when an addict successfully enters recovery and returns to healthy family relationships; when painful illness is mitigated by the joy of laughter. In each of these visitations, Jesus is saying to us, “Do not weep,” I am here with compassion, healing, love, and Life.

Do Not Weep

raising-at-nainMy siblings and I tried to prepare spiritually and emotionally our whole lives for the death of our parents. That is the way it should be. No parents can prepare to bury their child. This isn’t the way it should be. While there is always grief at the death of a parent, there is no small measure of comfort in reminiscing about a life well spent, a long life that has influenced many and achieved much good.
When a child dies, however -even an adult child – we have a sense that the life the parents have brought into this world has been cheated by the brevity of time on earth. The younger generation just doesn’t die first. That’s not the way things are supposed to be!
In our Gospel today, a funeral procession is taking place. A son has died. The dead man was the widow’s only son. Her life was effectively over. With the death of her son, she lost her future as well as her present. Jesus, out of pity, raised her son back to life again. By raising her son,
Jesus restored her present possibilities and revealed God’s promise concerning our future: death is not the end, but the beginning of the fullness of life God intends for us.
Our journey is a constant opening of ourselves to new life that comes from God. Every day Jesus encounters us on the way and has pity on us. Every day Jesus says to us, “Arise!” when we think we are going to break from too much tension, are discouraged with always playing catch-up, our doubting our ability to make a difference in our world. What is our response to his ever present gift of life?