God’s compassionate presence

Readings
1 Kings 17.8–24
Galatians 1.11–24
Luke 7.11–17

Today, Jesus goes to Nain. Nain was a tiny village in Galilee, not far from Mt Tabor. I’m sure nothing much happened there, but one day Jesus was going there with his disciples and a large crowd. I imagine them to be in high spirits, walking with this new teacher who was doing such wonderful things. After all, who could help but be buoyed up in this situation? What a day they were having! The story could have been about them. But it’s not.

The crowd with Jesus isn’t the only mob there that day. There is another large crowd of people, but they were sad and despondent. They were accompanying a widow who had lost her only son, and they were taking him to his last resting place. This second crowd probably consisted of most of the village of Nain.

Two “large crowds” meet face to face. The road would have been a bit too narrow to accommodate everyone. I guess neither group could just politely pass the other by. They met that day not just face to face, but eye to eye.

Two crowds, two moods, one entering Nain, the other crowd leaving. They couldn’t avoid each other.

Maybe nothing much ever happened in Nain, but I can sense some tension in the air that day.

I wonder how the people with Jesus felt? Perhaps their day out with the teacher was spoiled by all the wailing and mourning that went along with a funeral procession in that time and place. Some of them must have been annoyed.

And how did the people of Nain feel? Here are all these outsiders, coming on a day that they just needed to be alone. A day they were sharing the grief of a poor widow. Now these strangers were coming into their village, on a day when there was no one home to guard their property.

And how did Jesus feel? We don’t have to guess here; Luke tells us.

When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’

Jesus had compassion for her. She was destitute. She had nothing left, no husband, no son. Things weren’t looking too rosy for her.

And what may the widow have seen?—did she doubt that God cared for her? Or did she see the Lord who had compassion upon her, whose heart went out to her? Did she realise that she wasn’t spoiling his parade, she wasn’t getting in his way, that to Jesus she was a person in need of care?

It was different in our story from the Hebrew Scriptures, wasn’t it? When her son was gravely ill, the widow of Zarephath said to Elijah,

What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!

It was then that Elijah went to her son. See the difference? Jesus comes to the widow with a heart full of compassion.

The widow of Zeraphath shouted and ranted before anything happened for her son; but Jesus shows us that the heart of God is healing and wholeness for us.

So the widow of Nain, even if she had to blink through her tears, did see that the Lord felt for her.

Sometimes, when we feel sorry for someone that’s as far as it goes. When the Lord feels for us, the Lord acts. Psalm 146 reminds us:

The Lord opens the blind eyes
and straightens the bent,
comforting widows and the orphans,
protecting the stranger.
The Lord loves the just
but blocks the path of the wicked. (ICEL)

The Lord deals with us compassionately. Sometimes, we see it clearly. A woman gets that job she needed to get out of a bad situation. A child is born and a mother is well after a difficult labour. A man’s heart stops on the operating table, but he is brought around.

The Lord is compassionate towards us. The fact that we’re here today shows that we believe this is true. Or at least, we want to believe it’s true. Maybe though, there are days that we hope it’s true, or even that we wish were true.

Because you know, sometimes it’s hard to see the Lord acting. A marriage ends. A cyclone demolishes a town. A baby dies. We don’t get a miracle.

Do we believe it then? Can we say the words of Psalm 146 then? At these times, can we say the Lord opens blind eyes, straightens the bent and comforts the widow and the orphan?

We can only say these words if we praise God in all circumstances. If we recall that Psalm 146 is a psalm of praise—

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God
all my life long.

We are called to praise. We are called to lift up the name of God. We are called to remember—in the words of Psalm 146—that it is God who “made heaven and earth”, and who “keeps faith for ever”.

Psalm 146 calls us to trust in God, not in powerful leaders. It’s been said that

We want to go to God for answers, but sometimes what we get is God’s presence.  (Nadia Bolz-Weber)

That’s not always what we ask for! But let’s trust in God’s faithful and abiding presence, even where we have few if any answers.

That’s the first thing we need to do. Trust in God, praise God’s holy name.

As the Church, we need also to extend the compassion of Christ to others. We are the presence of Christ to those in need, and we are called to compassion.

We can only give what we have received, though… As we rest in the presence of God, we gain God’s strength to show compassion and care to others. We need to pray. We need to be people of prayer.We need to prayererfully draw on the power of the Spirit to maintain an attitude of compassion. We can easily get tired otherwise.

Back to the widow of Nain, who discovered the Lord’s compassion for her… When Jesus restores her son, he restores her to life in more than one way. He gives her back a place in society, a means of living. Her son was her only source of income. In other words, Jesus was making a political statement—that a widow should not starve.

Today, we need to care for “widows and orphans and strangers” in a similar way. Not by trying to raise people from the dead!—but by making sure they have a source of income. We do that by social mechanisms such as pensions, safety nets, and Medicare. And we haven’t even touched on “protecting the stranger”, who often comes to us as an asylum seeker. In an election year, we do well to remember this. We may or may not hear much about those in need during the election campaign, but followers of Jesus must always have them in mind.

When the Lord Jesus saw the widow of Nain, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’

God

opens the blind eyes
and straightens the bent,
comforting widows and the orphans,
protecting the stranger.

God calls us to go and do likewise.

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