THE HEART OF COMPASSION
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If you want to excel at baseball keep your eye on the ball; if you want to do well at driving, keep your eye on the road; and if you want to win the final victory over sin, death and the devil then keep your eye on Jesus, by hearing His Word and receiving His sacraments.
There were many people in Nain that day, but none more important than Jesus the merciful and compassionate Lord. Though the God/Man had just healed the Centurion’s son in Capernaum, and made the 20 mile journey to Nain, He wasn’t too tired to help, nor had He exhausted His resources. People on the other hand, even the most generous and best-intentioned, can run out of the time, energy or wherewithal to help us, but not so Jesus. His faithfulness is Great, and His mercies new every morning (Lam. 3:23). He came to the bereaved town, and according to St. Luke, He “entered” its gates.
Jesus is best known for coming when everyone else is going; entering when everyone else is running away. He came to our sinful world in order to exchange His wealth for our poverty, His glory for our shame, His life for our death. He rode into Jerusalem even though He knew there was a price on His head, 30 pieces of silver, but unlike so many meaningless deaths today, the death Jesus suffered eradicated sin and reconciled man to his Maker. He still comes to men today whenever the Gospel is preached and the sacraments administered, and He’s slated to return to earth one more time to judge the living and the dead, to open our graves, and to lead us into the Kingdom prepared for us before the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34). Whatever might be vexing us today Dear Ones, neither life nor death can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).
Luke the Evangelist also makes note of the fact that Jesus saw the woman’s distress; He sees ours as well. When everyone else is too absorbed in their own lives to take notice of our tears; even when those whose vocation it is to care for us seem to have forgotten we exist, we know that Jesus is aware of our pain and will always answer our cries for help. Our prayer is the same as David’s in the 142nd Psalm, “…there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul. I cry to you, O LORD; I say, You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living." Jesus didn’t merely take notice of the woman’s distress, anyone with eyes could have done that, but He did much more. He also had compassion on her. Not the smothering sentimentality people practice today, nothing is more insidious. It’s the flip side of cruelty. It reduces people to adorable little stuffed animals, and when you do that, the next thing you know you’re sticking pins in them.
Besides His wholesome concern, Jesus also ventured to speak words of comfort to her. Now it might not sound very compassionate to say to a widow who just lost her only son: stop crying. We might expect such a thing from the cruel world. “Get over it,” they say. “Life goes on, it’s been 6 months already.” “Here’s a list of grief counselors. Why don’t you give one of them a call.” But when Jesus says to stop crying it’s not empty words, nor does He say it because He has nothing better to offer, or because He’s uncomfortable with grief like we are. He says it because He has the power to stop the source of the tears. How often we have stood helpless in the face of death, bereft before the caskets of our loved ones wishing that Jesus would do for us what He did for the widow in Nain. All we can say about that, dear Christians, is that Jesus will. He is the Resurrection and the Life and whoever believes in Him will never die (John 11:25ff). The best is yet to come!
What a contrast St. Luke provides for us here. Two only-begotten sons meet; one coming, one going; one who is Life, one who is dead; the unstoppable force of Life encounters the immovable object of Death. Who will win? If Jesus touches the funeral bier with the dead body on board, what will happen? Will Jesus become infected and die? Or will the Life of Jesus transfer to the dead boy so that he will live? The answer is both! Jesus imparted His life to the boy, and pledged to suffer the death due to sinners in his place, even as He has done for all of us.
Though a touch would have been enough, Jesus, who is the Word made flesh, did more. He spoke living words to this dead boy: Young Man I say to you, Arise! With those words the young man came back to life, sat up and began to speak. St. Luke doesn’t record what he said, but we can be certain that he spent the rest of his days confessing the power and the love of Jesus who dries the tears mothers cry, and gives life to the dead.
In a final act of mercy Jesus returned the boy to his mother. Her joy was unspeakable, but we must not forget that the reunion was temporary. Some time later both mother and son died, even as we all will, but this reunion was the model for another, later and greater one which our Lord insured by His own resurrection from the dead, the one we still look forward to today.
This is the Christian faith, Beloved. Like the boy of Nain we were all dead in trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1). But Jesus came, Jesus saw, and Jesus exchanged His life for our death. It’s the faith that sustained Job in all his troubles; the faith of Olga Frantz who was baptized 120 years ago at Christ Lutheran Church; the faith believed by those from whom we inherited Christ Lutheran Church; and by God’s ongoing compassion, the faith that will continue to be proclaimed and believed here for many years to come. Amen.
~Rev. Dean Kavouras