Gospel: Luke 7:11-17

A Story of Compassion

When have you seen an act of compassion? How did that act affect you?

News on the Global War on Terrorism most times lacks one key ingredient. No, it’s not a lack of good news (although it doesn’t accent the positive). It lacks compassion. News on terrorism and counter-terrorism seems to built on a spirit of righteousness, vengeance, and rage. Scratch below the surface and hatred rears its ugly head.

Imagine news reports of compassion from the Middle East. Sure, they make great human interest stories, but they don’t sell air time very well. Still, our primary source on the Middle East are full of stories where compassion trumps hatred, rage, vengeance, even death. The Gospels tell us that one compassionate man can raise the dead to life and bring God to live among his people

Popular Translation

11 Next, Jesus went to a city called Nain with his disciples. A large crowd traveled with him. 12 When he got close to the city gate, a man who just died was being carried out of the city. He was the only son of a widow. A large crowd went with her to bury her son. 13 When the Lord saw the mother, he felt so sorry for her, he said, “Don’t cry.” 14 Then, Jesus walked up to the burial stretcher and touched it. The men who carried it stopped. Jesus said to the dead man, “Rise up.” 15 The man sat up and started to speak. Jesus gave the man back to his mother. 16 Everyone was amazed and they kept praising God. “A great prophet is with us,” some said. “God has looked upon his people,” others said. 17 Word about this spread everywhere throughout Judea and the areas around it.

Literal Translation

11 It happened next (that) HE went to a city named Nain and HIS disciples and a large crowd was going with HIM. 12 As (HE) approached the gate to the city, Look! (a man) having died was being carried out (of the city), an only-born son to his mother, and she was a widow, and (there) was a large crowd of the city with her. 13 Having seen her, the LORD had pity on her and said to her, “Do not cry.” 14 Having approached, (HE) touched the bier and the (one) bearing (it) stood (still), and HE said, “Young man, I say to you, rise up.” 15 The dead (man) sat up and began to speak, and HE gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized everyone, and they (kept) praising God, saying, “A great prophet has been raised up among us” and “God looked upon his people.” 17 This word went out about him in the whole (of) Judea and all the area around it.

This simple, yet poignant story is unique to Luke among the gospels. The incident echoed the ministries of the two great prophets from Galilee: Elijah and Elisha. In 1 Kings 17:17-24, Elijah raised up the son of the widow from Zarephath. In 2 Kings 4:32-37, Elisha raised the only son of the couple from Shunem. In both cases, the prophets enjoyed the hospitality of the boys’ mothers. In Luke, Jesus didn’t know the mother, much less enjoy her hospitality.

Like many of these miracles, this story looked forward to the Resurrection. The appearance of and tenderness for the widow’s dead son reflected John (John 19:25-26) more than Luke (the exception was Jesus command “Don’t weep” which was flipped in Luke 23:27-31, when Jesus told the women at his crucifixion to weep for themselves and their children). The thrust of the story, however, revolved around the word “rise,” mentioned in the Jesus’ command (7:14) and the crowds reaction (7:16). The boy was raised up by the word of Jesus; the prophet rising was proclaimed by the word of the people. Notice the Good News involved both meanings of the term “rise.”

For Luke, the other reaction of the crowd in 7:16 made a greater theological statement. “God looked upon his people” meant more than the idea we might get of God looking down from heaven and smiling. When a king “looked” upon someone, the king granted favor upon the person; it implied a relationship where the king was present and acted for the person; the person had a place in the king’s court. When “God looked upon his people,“ he was present among them. For Christians, God is present to them in the risen Lord. As the “great prophet rose up us,” “God looked upon his people.” The Resurrection led to the divine presence among the followers of the Lord.

With this wonderful story of compassion, Luke linked the images of the Elijah and Elisha to the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth to the Resurrection. The resurrection narratives of the Old Testament foreshadowed the Resurrection of Jesus. They also foreshadowed the tenderness of Jesus. Through the resurrection, God showed how he CARES for us.

How has God shown his compassion for you?

God cares for each of us. He looks upon us and blesses us with the presence of the risen Jesus. His charge to us, his challenge for us, is to carry that tenderness and compassion to others, so we can partake in the raising of others to life.

How can you show compassion to an enemy or stranger this week? Pray, plan, and act.