who is this Jesus? a healer of the dead

preaching a sermon, based on Luke 7.11-17 and 1 Kings 17.8-24, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, June 5, 2016

Today, we continue from last Sunday, and for the next two Sundays, brief meditations in response to the question: Who is this Jesus?

Jesus enters Nain. He encounters a crowd moving in the opposite direction to the outskirts of the town.[1] A funeral procession. A man had died and the villagers accompany his mother to the burial site.

This is not any man, but “his mother’s only son, and she (is) a widow.”[2] This fact alerts us to the agonizing desperation of this woman’s situation. The men of her life, her husband and now her son, in her day and time, her literal living, breathing visible means of financial support, are dead. (Whether she has daughters, we are not told. Indeed, if she does, their circumstance is all the more difficult!)

There’s more. In accord with Jewish custom, this woman, this mother need bury her son within a day of his death. Thus, we know her sorrow is sudden, her grief new, her vision misty with tears.

Jesus, beholding this living, moving human tableau of despair, has compassion (though saying first an ostensibly dispassionate word, “Do not weep”). And unlike Elijah, in the healing of the woman’s son in Zarephath, having to cry out to God and cover the child’s body with his,[3] Jesus touches only the funeral bier on which the body lay, calling out directly to the dead, “Young man, I say to you, rise!”

The Resurrection of the Widow's Son at Nain (La résurrection du fils de la veuve de Naïm) (1886-1894), James Tissot (1836-1902), Brooklyn Museum

Who is this Jesus? A healer of the dead.

Yet this healing that makes this story soulfully comforting is also what makes it terribly heartrending for any of us who has ached for a loved one sick unto death to be restored to soundness and wholeness of health or who, grieving the death of beloved family members or friends, still longs for their living presence.

Hence, if there is healing in this story for any of us, for all of us, it may rest in our grasp of what I consider the miracle within the miracle. Compassion.

Compassion, from the Latin com, with, and passion, from the Greek pathos, suffering, is a cornerstone of all social interconnectedness, all interrelatedness, involves a quality of care of quantitative depth and degree. Compassion is greater than sympathy, suffering as or like another, for we all suffer. Compassion is closer to empathy, suffering with another, somehow joining in another’s experience of suffering. Still, compassion is more, for it embodies an added dimension of action to alleviate the other’s suffering.

We cannot bring the dead back to life as Jesus did at Nain. Yet we can reach out to those who suffer in their grief at the deaths and in the absence of the ones they love. And whene’er we, as Jesus alway, everywhere does, can be a living, present, incarnate reminder that those who suffer are not alone, are never alone, never can or will be alone, that is a miracle!


Illustration: The Resurrection of the Widow’s Son at Nain (La résurrection du fils de la veuve de Naïm) (1886-1894), James Tissot (1836-1902), Brooklyn Museum


[1] Luke 7.11-17

[2] Emphases, mine

[3] 1 Kings 17.8-24

2 thoughts on “who is this Jesus? a healer of the dead

  1. Thank you for this sermon Paul. Compassion….. God knows we need that today!!!!

    As I travel around the country, compassion is the trait that people write in their evaluations of me that stands out most to them. But I’ll say compassion is so hard at times. It takes incredible energy….because you do give so much of yourself to the other person. I don’t know how Jesus did it, day in and day out without being emotionally spent. I’m always so exhausted after each presentation because I give so much compassion to the people who take time out of their schedules to come and see me for whatever it is that they need. I hope I never run out of it….because I’d feel like I’d failed. I often wonder what it’s like for you and other priests whose vocation involves being compassionate on a daily basis. What I got from your sermon was hope and strength and for that I thank you. Much love


    • Loretta, you comments raise, for me, the issue, the question of from whence compassion comes. Hmmm, good question. Not sure I know. When I look at the story of Jesus raising to life the son of the widow of Nain, I ask myself: How did, how COULD Jesus have compassion for her? I raise that question because in some sense I think compassion is the fruit of shared experience. That woman was a woman and a widow. Jesus was a man and a rabbi. What common experience dos they share? From my limited viewpoint, little to none. Yet, Jesus had compassion, which I believe is an expression of his divinity, his supernatural consciousness that enabled him to be connected to anyone and everyone anywhere and everywhere. Perhaps, then, it is the shared experience that you and all those who come to hear and share with you that spawns your compassion for them. Through and in it all, I believe compassion, impossible to manufacture by human desiring alone, is the product of the working of the Holy Spirit, for it is the fruit of love, the Spirit’s primary or first fruit (Galatians 5). That’s the best I can do to surmise a cause for compassion. The “how” of it, that is, how it happens, therefore, I think, it the result of an ongoing submission to and trust in the Spirit, for again, we can’t produce compassion.

      Liked by 1 person

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