“When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with compassion”
— Luke 7: 11-17 New Living Translation
As Luke relates the story, a great crowd followed Jesus into the town of Nain. They were met by another crowd, this one leaving the town, a funeral procession. The dear departed was the only son of a widow. Jesus sees this and “his heart overflowed with compassion.” No condescending “tsk, tsk, tsk,” no momentary look of feigned pain. The heart of Love Incarnate overflowed with compassion, a word which means “to suffer with.”
Jesus could relate to this poor souls’ plight. Since Joseph the carpenter from Nazareth is no longer mentioned in the gospels by this time, it is quite possible that Jesus’ earthly father had already passed away, leaving his own mother a widow. But she still had her son, itinerate preacher (and supposed screwball to some) though he was.
As a widow, this woman from the small town of Nain would have been left with no one to defend her, provide for her, lift her spirits. She was wife to no one, mother to no one; she was lost and crushed with grief.
Jesus walks over and touches the boy’s coffin, his lifeless body swathed in funereal wrappings. Turning to the distraught woman, Jesus tells her, “Don’t cry.” I imagine this woman, wrapped in the black garments of widowhood and mourning blinking through the tears with a look of utter confusion. Then Jesus moves over to the corpse and speaks to the dead boy, not over him, “Young man, get up.” Then Life itself dispels death. Movement begins and muffled sounds can be heard as the cold of the approaching grave gives way to renewed warmth and life. “And Jesus gave him back to his mother.”
The widow was being followed by mourners. She was not completely alone at that moment. But well-meaning supporters had lives of their own. She would still have to deal with the empty house, another empty place at the table, clothing never to be washed or worn again. But then comes Rabbi Jesus, and all is changed.
Jesus was moved with compassion for her troubles, as he is over yours and mine. What funerals have you attended lately? Maybe it was an actual funeral of a loved one. Or perhaps it has been the funeral whereby dreams have been laid to rest, hope has faded, a job was lost, the road you have been traveling has taken a dark and ugly turn. No matter what funeral procession has caused you sorrow and grief, Jesus calls out to you, from a heart gushing forth deep and unending compassion, “Don’t cry. And don’t be afraid, for I am, and always will be, with you.”
Allow him to call life back. Give him permission to stop the downward movement of pain and confusion. Get out of his way so that he can bring light to the new path he has laid out for you, a path that will be for your good if you let him be as big and loving and compassionate as he desires to be. If you do this, if you trust him, even when all around you suggests that “trust” equals “foolishness,” then you will be able to repeat what the crowds said that miraculous day 2000 years ago, “We have seen the hand of God at work today.”
Tom Yeshua is the pen name of Thomas E.L. Cloutier OFS, a transitional deacon who taught theology for 30 years at Nashua (N.H.) Catholic Regional Junior High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Don Bosco College in Newton, N.J., and a master’s in divinity and theology from St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Mass.