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 favorably on his people!’ This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
“When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ In today’s gospel, Jesus responds to the tragic circumstances of a woman, whose only son had died. It is important to note that Luke specifically identifies the woman is a widow. In that culture, without a husband and then, without a son to support her, the widow would most likely have been destitute, and meagerly living on the generosity and alms of others.
In the story, Jesus knew that the widow faced very difficult times now that her son had died, and he had compassion for her. Jesus raised her son back to life, and in so doing, he also raised her up to the possibility of a life of fullness and restoration. God is predisposed to care for the destitute, the poor, and the outcast, but how about us? New York Times best selling author Bob Goff once said, “Jesus spent his whole life engaging the people most of us have spent our whole lives trying to avoid.” God’s heart leans toward the least, lost, and lonely, and honestly, you can see that picture of Jesus’ compassionate heart painted throughout the Gospels.
Eleven years ago, my spouse Terri and I led a group of young adults that every Saturday for two years, prepared and served a meal to about 55-60 homeless folks, in a city park in downtown Fort Myers. Our little team of volunteers, early on Saturdays would spend time working together preparing the meal, sharing stories, laughing, praying, and enjoying each other’s company.
As the prep work was finished, we would load up the food into our cars, and drive in caravan to the park. When our team arrived, homeless men and women, who just hours before were living with the despair of their plight, greeted us with joy and anticipation. Yes, they longed for food, but what we offered them was so much more than mere nutrition and a full belly, we invited them to join us, as we served each other. Each week, our homeless friends not only helped us unload the car, but they setup the food, and helped serve each other.
When the meal ended the volunteer team did not just pack up and leave, we actually hung out with these folks and shared stories, laughed, and enjoyed each other’s company. For a couple of hours each week God’s people, homeless and privileged, outcasts and fortunate, shared a meal and united in an unlikely experience of community. For some who came to the park, we had basic physical needs that were greater than any present could even imagine. For others who came to the park we had struggles with spiritual and emotional needs greater than any present could fathom. Together we all came face to face with the reality of our common need for healing, and in a special place, at a special time, in a city park we all served as both patient and physician, offering healing in Christ’s name.
It seems surprising, but when preconceived notions and false ideas about others are stripped away, when we really get to know each other, listen to each other’s stories, it is then that we come to understand that Christ is always really present healing, restoring, and reconciling us.
I imagine all of us do at times traverse spiritually empty streets and abandoned emotional overpasses of every day life. Sometimes we can be blind to the burdens of the people around us. The poverty of spirit is not as obvious as tattered clothes, matted hair, or street worn shoes and yet, despair is all around us. We like Jesus are compelled to enter the lives of the poor, those both suffering physically, and those suffering spiritually and emotionally. Throughout the gospels, Jesus was ready and available to bring healing to the plight of the marginalized. Jesus felt compassion towards the least, lost and lonely, and then acted.
“God exhorts the church to embrace compassionate ministry to the poor in Jesus’ name.” As the Body of Christ, we cannot be mere bystanders who turn from the needs of others. We must act and become reconcilers, healers, and bearers of God’s compassion and transformation.
Following the prophetic mission of Our Lord to bring healing where there is despair may seem overwhelming. Maybe all we need to do is be open and ready to be present to others, to merely listen to their story, and with compassion try and understand their challenges. Often times, the ministry we are called to take on is just the ministry of presence, not fixing things, but being present in the hard times as well as times of joy: just as Jesus is with us.
You see, when we are in community together, whether in church, in our homes, or in the workplace, we all arrive to these parties with our junk, our brokenness, our burdens, and our pain, but when we share this common life we have in Christ, bearing each other’s burdens, serving as both patient and physician, healing and restoration becomes real among us. Jesus said, “Young man I say to you, rise!” When we serve Christ in each other, the boundaries and lines that separate us begin to blur and then, it may be then, that we may come to know and experience glimpses of new life, restoration, and reconciliation. It is then that we truly lift each other up and say to one another, rise.