Luke 7:11-17


The Compassionate One (1)  -  Compassion Restores Life

Luke 7:11-17  -  Jesus Raises a Widow’s Son

This incident had not been mentioned in Mark’s Gospel, nor was it drawn from the source Luke shared with Matthew. It originated from Luke’s own research. 

11 The next day Jesus came to a town called Nain.  
With him were his disciples and a large crowd.
12 As he drew near to the gate of the town,
a dead man, the only son of his widowed mother,
was being carried out.  
A notable crowd of people from the town was with her.

The situation of the widow had become desperate. Without a husband, and now without an only son, she was defenceless with no honour ranking at all (unless she still had married brothers into whose homes she could be absorbed and who might take care of her interests). Her situation may have mirrored that of Jesus’ own mother. (Mary was by this time widowed; Jesus, her only son, no longer lived within the family enclave. If she had step-sons from a previous marriage of Joseph, her relationship with them would not have been as culturally close as it was with Jesus.)

13 When he saw her, the Lord was deeply moved for her
and said to her.  "Do not cry." 
14 He went up and touched the open coffin.  
The coffin-bearers stopped;
and he said, "Young man, I tell you, rise up."
15 The dead man sat up and began to talk.  
Jesus then gave him to his mother.

The mother’s plight seemed to have been the sole motivation for Jesus’ intervention. His giving the restored son to his mother was a tender gesture. 

In touching the coffin, Jesus made himself “unclean”. Questions of ritual “cleanness” no longer mattered with Jesus, and certainly took second place to compassion.

16 Fear gripped everyone.  
They glorified God, and said,
"A great prophet has been raised up among us.  
God has taken notice of his people."
17 This news about him spread
right around Judea and the surrounding area.

Nain was a town in Galilee. For Luke’s source, Judea had come to refer not only to Judea proper but to Galilee as well.

Healing is a charism shared by many, though perhaps not as abundantly as with Jesus. Obviously, a whole other agenda was operating if the action went well beyond merely healing the living. A number of indicators suggest that the narrative had been significantly theologised over time. 

In fact, the only other scriptural precedent for resuscitation occurred in the Book of Kings, and was worked by the prophet Elisha, who resuscitated a young man, the only son of a woman (a Gentile woman, in fact).

When Elisha came into the house,
he saw the child lying dead on his bed. 
So he went in and shut the door upon the two of them,
and prayed to the LORD. 
Then he went up and lay upon the child, 
putting his mouth upon his mouth,
his eyes upon his eyes,
and his hands upon his hands; 
and as he stretched himself upon him,
the flesh of the child became warm. 
Then he got up again,
and walked once to and fro in the house, 
and went up, and stretched himself upon him; 
the child sneezed seven times,
and the child opened his eyes. 
Then he summoned Gehazi and said,
“Call this Shunammite.”
So he called her. 
And when she came to him, he said,
“Take up your son.” (2 Kings 4:32-36) 

Perhaps drawing on their knowledge of the Elisha story, the crowd called Jesus a great prophet. Their comment, God has taken notice of his people, echoed the canticle of Zechariah on the occasion of the circumcision of John the Baptist (1.68). Zechariah was referring to the intervention of God in history, the coming of a saviour, whose herald John would be, and to whom Luke would immediately refer. 

In the previous incident Jesus had commended the faith of the Gentile centurion, that had opened the way to good health. Perhaps in this incident Luke wished to show that even a dead Israel could be led to life, through the tender mercy of God (as Zechariah had proclaimed [1:78]).

In the following incident, Jesus would refer to John as more than a prophet; though he had added that the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. Luke may have been making the point, too, that Jesus was a prophet, and indeed more than a prophet; that he was, indeed, more than John who was merely the messenger whose role had been to prepare the way before him.

It was unusual that in shaping the narrative, Luke had made no reference to anyone’s faith as the context for the miracle.

Next >> Luke 7:18-35