READINGS: 1 Kings 17:17-24; Luke 7:11-17
Last week it was the faith of the centurion we looked at – his faith led to the healing of his servant.
The very next story in Luke – and there is no faith to be seen.
- It’s a funeral.
- It’s grim.
- There’s a widow and her only son has died.
The dead guy can’t have faith – and there is no expectation of faith at a funeral. Just pain and sorrow – deep grief.
The people around would have known about Elijah raising a widow’s son. Once word got out they would have joined the dots – here was another prophet empowered by God.
But put yourself in the story.
This is 5 miles away from Nazareth. 25 miles away from Capernaum where we were last week. Quite a long walk really.
The death would have been very recent. They buried their dead within 24 hours. Not like our week’s mourning at most here. Or the Swedish custom of a couple of weeks between death and the funeral.
So the grief is still raw – this is a child – an only son of a widow – it’s a disaster from an economic survival point of view.
The professional mourners would have been there. Wailing.
Don’t think that’s a bizarre custom either. They cried loudly so that the real mourners would not be the centre of attention as they genuinely wept.
It was all healthy but raw.
And along comes this prophet like Elijah. Except things are different. Elijah knew the family and he was known to them. In this account Jesus didn’t.
- A stranger who walks in.
- A crowd following him intersects with the funeral crowd.
- Imagine someone doing that at a funeral you’re at. Unusual to say the least.
He touches the funeral bier. The coffin – which would have been an open kind of frame. It certainly brought the procession to a halt.
The key line is verse 13: Luk 7:13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”
What a strange thing to say. Of course she would be crying. Grief specialists would say to her: “let it out dear. It’s okay to cry!”
- It comes from compassion. In fact, a better translation is probably this:
13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” (NRSV)
- It also comes from hope – and knowledge of what was possible.
He knew he could reverse this. He knew his ultimate destiny. He knew that resurrection would ultimately change the way we see the world.
I remember Nicky Gumbel talking about how interesting a person Jesus would have been to have around.
- At a wedding.
- At a picnic.
- When out fishing.
- During a storm at sea.
- At a funeral.
The text is very matter of fact. Remember also that only Luke tells us this story. It’s not in the other gospel accounts. Listen again:
Luk 7:14 Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!”
Luk 7:15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
Luk 7:16 They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.”
Luk 7:17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.
WHAT ABOUT US
What do you make of this?
At a factual and historical level, it’s Jesus showing his hand to the crowds. The word certainly would have got out, as was the case with the raising of Lazarus. In Lazarus’ case it was a nail in his own coffin as his enemies were provoked to plot his death.
There are two points to take home today really.
For us today it is a reminder of His compassion – shown in so many other gospel accounts.
- The hungry – he had compassion on them and fed them.
- The sick – he healed them.
- Blind beggars who called out to him – in compassion he healed them.
- And two great stories in the bible – the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal son – are both about compassionate people – the Samaritan and the Father in the stories.
It has to speak to us about compassion – we at least have to be like that – from deep within. The word itself – compassion – in the original New Testament Language encompassed the bowels, heart, lungs, liver or kidneys – all seen in those days as the seat of human emotion.
It gets us here (point to gut).
Are we really compassionate? the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, said this: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”
Not a bad motto. To live by – not just to have on the wall or on your facebook page.
2. WOULD THAT JESUS SHOW UP IN ALL KINDS OF PLACES.
I bet no one afterwards at the funeral tea was resentful that this strange rabbi gate-crashed their ceremony.
“Who’s that bloke ‘ey stopping the procession?”
I’ve been watching too much British television I think.
Jesus is really keen to walk into the lives of our families and friends – he brings a whole new perspective on our sickness, pain, griefs and our dying. And our living!
And he really wants to walk into our mess too.
It’s ultimately about resurrection. Not about disembodied souls going to heaven. But about a whole new life at the end of it all.
And the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead – the Holy Spirit – is at work in us. (Romans 8:11).
That resurrection life begins now – we are made alive spiritually. He still breaks through into our messy world by His Holy Spirit.
Nicky Gumble tells the great story about a man who got really carried away in a very dull staid church. He was lifting his hands and shouting “hallelujah”- whereupon the Church warden came up to him at tapped him on the shoulder saying “we don’t do that here!” The man said excitedly – “but I’ve found religion”. The warden replied – “you didn’t get it here”.
If Jesus can walk into a funeral procession and turn things around, he can surely walk into our situations and change things too – bring new life and hope.
Next week when our guests are here there will be opportunities for us to receive prayer and really hear from the Lord. I encourage you to bring a friend along.
God still shows up in our lives. He changes us to make us compassionate.
He fills us with hope too – which is an infectious and helpful force in a pretty hopeless world. In fact, hope is the basis for our witnessing. Peter writes this:
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…
Hopeful people are joyful! Happy! There would nothing gloomy at that moment when the dead boy was returned to his mother alive and well.