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. 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.” 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, Jesus touches only the funeral bier on which the body lay, calling out directly to the dead, “Young man, I say to you, rise!”
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
 Luke 7.11-17
 Emphases, mine
 1 Kings 17.8-24