"The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God." -St Irenaeus of Lyon

Seemingly False Promises

As I read today’s Gospel reading, I was struck by how many objections I immediately raised to the story.  We read St Luke’s account of Christ raising the dead son of the widow of Nain.  The shear idea of a widow having to bury her son just seems like the tantamount injustice.  Yet, these scenes happen continually, all over the world.  And the young men remain on their funeral biers.

Where is Christ?

In this passage we see a microcosm of the Gospel rooted in Christ’s Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection.  We have a temptation to view this story as only a resurrection story.  We hear that Jesus touches the coffin and the young man gets up, returned to life.  Jesus gave him back to his mother.

Yet, if we stop the account immediately as Jesus arrives on the scene, we hear “When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.'”  In his compassion, Christ enters into the woman’s situation.  By merely being present, He has the power to change the situation.  We can be tempted to assert that we know what will happen next, but the reality of Christ means that He can enter into a situation anyway He wants.  We can start the rejoicing, anticipating that the son will be raised.  But is the son’s resurrection the reason to rejoice?  Or do we rejoice because we see Christ entering the situation?

Maintaining a focus on the likely coming physical reality can lead to our creating a promise from God that simply doesn’t exist.  God does act in our physical reality by entering. our, reality.  The presence of Christ makes the difference.

Additionally, we see Christ’s crucifixion in that He touches the coffin.  The Crucifixion resulted in Jesus being in the tomb.  Christ’s ability to enter into even our death transforms the nature of that death.  Clearly, the Resurrection comes next.

Within five sentences, we see the entirety of the Gospel.  We can be lured into the false promise that the Gospel happens in an instant.  But our God remains outside of time and space.  We rarely see the fullness of the Gospel in 5-10 minutes of our life.  These passages can challenge our faith when we pray for those we love who face death.  The resurrection of the widow’s son almost feels false.  We don’t see dead young men leave their funeral piers.

But this story is our story.  And the story begins because Jesus has compassion on the people.  Jesus’ willingness to enter into our situation radicalizes the situation.  When we overlook God with us, we can easily make the Gospel about something entirely different.

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5 responses

  1. s-p

    Well said. I think it was Clement of Alexandria who wrote: “Why did Christ touch the bier and not just speak a word?… To show that His flesh gives life.”

    10 October 2010 at 5:54 am

  2. Dave

    The story is not one of resurrection…it is one of resuscitation. I’m going to have to say I love the account…but it’s a story about our Lord having mercy on a widow who’d just lost her son…a son that would die again someday, but not THAT day.

    Resurrection speaks of a bringing back to bodily life that does not end, which is evidenced by Christ having His physical body even now as he sits at the right hand of the Father until He makes His enemies a footstool.

    Your conclusion, however, is indeed spot on. When we miss what the Gospel has done for us and does IN us on a daily basis, we make the Gospel about self-help rather than God-glorification in the service of others.

    11 October 2010 at 5:18 am

    • You too are spot on with the observation that the son was simply returned to physical life in this world rather than to eternal life in this world. But this account is also not the only account where Christ arrives (either bodily or through the prayers of His apostles) that ends in a resuscitation. People will ask why the dead are not raised today as almost a proof question that the Gospel is a bunch of fairy tales. Looking for a particular physical manifestation will almost always leave one disappointed.

      11 October 2010 at 6:59 am

  3. Very interesting insight that it’s the presence of Jesus that is important, not the giving of life to the dead man.

    It reminds me of the Old Testament story where Elijah raises the woman’s son from the dead. To me it seems it is her that the miracle is for and not the son, per se. She is then truly convinced of God’s greatness! Perhaps it’s us that the miracle in this story is for.

    16 October 2010 at 5:21 am

  4. Yes Marc, I think your point about the miracle being for the widow and not necessarily for her son is also spot on. Thanks for your comments!

    16 October 2010 at 7:31 am

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