Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’ The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen among us!’ and ‘God has looked favourably on his people!’ This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
The widow is in greater peril than we may realise. Losing her son as well as her husband means that she is not only alone but also vulnerable. Jesus not only has compassion on her but expressed this in a practical way. He doesn’t say ‘sorry for your loss’ – a phrase which seems to have become quite common in our society – he reaches out and touches the bier containing her son’s body. In so doing he breaks the taboo against touching a dead body or anything in contact with one. He then brings the young man back to life, totally transforming his mother’s life as well as her son’s.
It’s a great story, but what does it say to us? We are not Jesus and, much as we might like to, we cannot raise the dead. No. But we can show compassion to people who have been bereaved, and to those in various kinds of need. Showing compassion is more than feeling sorry for people. It is doing what we can to help them, which means being proactive as well as reactive.
It is easy to say to someone ‘do let me know if there is anything I can do’, and we may well mean it, but the chances are that they won’t. They won’t because they find it hard to ask for help. Don’t we all? Far better to take them some flowers or something you know they will like, or to invite them for a cup of tea or a meal. Bereaved people sometimes feel ignored by friends who, because they don’t want to upset them, avoid making contact. The word ‘compassion’ literally means ‘suffer with’ and you can’t do that without being in contact, as Jesus shows in this story, as in others.
Loving Lord, we pray for people who have lost loved ones and those who are in particular need, especially any we know. Please fill us with your compassion for them. Give us the courage to show it and the wisdom to know how best to do so in practical ways.Amen.
The Reverend John Matthews is a retired Baptist minister and member of Wellingborough URC.