| Mar 20, 2022
40 Days of Prayer content is intended for Monday through Saturday each week. Devotions are available on Sundays to prepare for the week ahead.
The Widow of Nain
One of the miracles Luke highlights in his gospel is sometimes accompanied in our English Bibles with the header, The Widow of Nain. I found it interesting that it is captioned this way because it is her son who is brought back to life. I say found instead of find because my understanding of the text is much different now … because I, too, am a widow now.
A friend, and coworker, of mine lost her husband at a young age. We have spent a lot of our conversations on this subject; it seems to be a bonding event, one that neither of us wanted or thought we would share. The grief that goes along with losing a spouse is somewhat unique, which is why the word widow is used close to one hundred times throughout the Old and New Testament. We are often included in verses that mention orphans and foreigners or refuges—insinuating helpless, hopeless, and deserving of mercy. Of course, widows in biblical times faced uncertain futures because women were dependent on men for their provision, their status, and their very identity. While we have more options when it comes to provision in a lot of cases, our status and identities are equally affected. And this is accompanied by ever-present grief due to the loss of a loved one.
My friend and I often talk about the saving grace of having our kids in our lives. They bring hope, joy, and laughter. They tether us to our spouses and keep us rooted in our faith. Neither of us could fathom losing a child on top of the painful loss of our beloved spouse. It would be too much to bear.
In his telling of this story, Luke says this:
“Soon afterward Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the town gate, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother (who was a widow), and a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and those who carried it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” So the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him back to his mother” (Luke 7:11-15 NET).
Several things jump out at me in this passage. One thing is how it mentions the young man who died was the only son of the widow. We don’t know if she had daughters, but again, identity was tied to the males in your life, so this was especially devastating. Then, a large crowd from the town was with her. This is a beautiful thing about community. When I lost my husband, what saved me (apart from my deep and devout faith) was my community. They literally walked with me through the hardest of days and do still to this day, just as they walked with the widow in the story.
Then everything Jesus did. First, he saw her. With Jesus, being seen is more than a glimpse; he saw into her grief-stricken heart, he knew her. Next, Jesus had compassion on her. His compassion wasn’t directed to the son, but to the mother/widow. Why? For the same reason I know my husband isn’t mourning his death, only those left behind mourn. Compassion is reserved for the living. Jesus then turns to the man in the coffin and tells him to “Get up!” This can’t be confused with a resuscitation; this man was in his coffin! Finally, Jesus “gave him back to his mother.” The mercy and grace in this simple statement is staggering. I imagine the overwhelming joy that must have poured out in a different kind of weeping. Hopeful, joyful, and full of happy tears.
The word widow means one thing: surviving spouse of a husband. Not everyone will be a widow, but everyone experiences the excruciating loss of someone or something that defines their lives. Divorce is the death of a marriage; betrayal is loss of a trusted advocate; job loss is the suspension of a dream and often one’s identity. I have other coworkers who have lost their children, and while they hold onto their spouses in the midst of mourning, their loss was sudden, life-altering—the kind that knocks the breath out of you over and over again.
Jesus shows the widow compassion by giving back her son. He also shows us compassion when we mourn our great losses, but in different ways: community, identity in him, his promise to never leave us, and the promise for a future and amazing reunion with our loved ones who pass into his presence before us. Our destiny is one of reunion, not mourning. Unwavering hope in that future is enough to see us through loss. Jesus’ compassion is for the living.
“Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians.”
1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 NET
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