Sunday 10 • 5 Jun 2016

1 Kings 17: 8-16, (17-24)
Luke 7: 11-17

Rev. John Candy

Funeral Procession to Parade

Once again, Jesus is surrounded by a large group of people.
He and the disciples have just been in Capernaum, where Jesus has honoured the faithful plea of a centurion and healed a beloved slave.
As usual, as word of the miracle spreads, more and more people gather to see this One who offers healing and teaches with authority.
The crowd is so enthralled with Jesus that they follow him as he makes his way toward Nain.

As Jesus approaches the town, those gathered around him run directly into another sizable group of people.
The loud conversations of those discussing all they have seen and heard as they followed the Master gradually die away as they realize that they have inadvertently become part of a funeral procession.
If they knew the circumstances of this funeral, their discomfort would have been even greater.

The man who has died was the only son of a widow. Whereas this may seem unbearably sad in today’s circumstances, it was immeasurably worse in those days. This widow would have been dependent on her son for physical and financial support, as well as social status. At the death of her only son, her life is also finished in many ways.
Many from the town have come to mourn and to offer comfort during the funeral, but there is little they can do to offer solace.
The mother weeps as she follows behind her son’s body. Knowing all this, Jesus is moved to compassion.

He sees her tears and says, “Do not weep”.
Jesus moves toward the body, and as the crowd stands silent and still, he instructs the man to rise.
At Jesus’ words, the dead man sits up and begins speaking.
As you can imagine, the crowd has mixed reactions: they are afraid, even as they acknowledge God’s work through Jesus.
Their final response is “God has looked favourably on his people!”
The mournful funeral procession becomes a joyful parade.

This story may not seem so different from many others; after all, Jesus had just come from healing a mortally ill slave, and he would go on to cast out demons, heal the blind, and make the lame walk and the blind see.
Even the psalmist recognized that these acts are part of the nature of God.
Today’s psalm proclaims, “The LORD opens the eyes of the blind. . ..
He upholds the orphan and the widow” (Psalm 146:8-9). There is a difference in this healing, however.

In the healing prior to this one, a centurion came to Jesus and asked him to heal a servant.
Jesus cured the servant in response to the soldier’s faith. Again and again in the Gospels, we hear Jesus say, “Your faith has made you whole.”
But this healing is different.
The widow exhibits no great faith; in fact, there is no evidence that she even notices or knows who Jesus is. She is too caught up in her grief to do anything but cry.

I am not suggesting that the woman does not approach Jesus because she lacks faith. It may be that she just thinks it is too late.
After all, her son is dead.
But there is no evidence that she (or her son) even says thank you.
Luke does not record any response from her at all. More than likely, both the woman and her son joined in the celebration of the crowd, but the story as we have it does not mention this.
In most of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus heals people because of the faith they have shown; or, on the occasions when the healing is not requested, there is a great expression of thanks or praise to God after the person has been made well.

In today’s story, there is no word about faith, and nothing is said about thankfulness. We have only a mother’s tears and a son’s unrecorded words. We are left, then, with only one thing—grace. Jesus did not resurrect this man because of the mother’s faith in God or even because the man deserved a second chance at life. He performed a miracle because,
quite simply, he had compassion for the widow. This is authentic, undeserved, unasked-for grace.

Perhaps the mother was very faithful, and maybe the son was a righteous man. This story, though, says much more about Jesus than about either the widow or her son.
It tells us that when we are given grace, we only have to decide whether or not to accept it; no other action is required.
Context is so important for understanding.
If we are told that a group of people are coming down the street, we can imagine any number of reasons for this if we are not given a context.

This group of people may be an angry protest mob; it could be a festive parade, a military manoeuvre, or perhaps a funeral procession.
We have no way of knowing anything about this group’s progression unless we are given clues to the purpose for their gathering.

Our Gospel text today gives a context, a background, for how we can experience life.
It points out that with God, our context is always grace — undeserved love and mercy.
It reminds us that, where Jesus is concerned, a parade can break out anywhere—even in the middle of a funeral procession.
Let us celebrate with the people of Nain and cry out, “God has looked favourably on his people!”