Luke 7:11-17

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. Luke 7:11-17

How far does your conception of “family” reach?

It is hard for me to imagine the world before Social Security was created in 1935. In fact, throughout history, people have always had to grapple with the needs of the poor, the elderly, and the disabled. You can read an interesting article about the evolution of public assistance by clicking here. But, in Jesus’ day, if you didn’t come from a wealthy, landowning, family, you worked until you were incapable of working and then you depended on the assistance of your immediate family.

After a long life of suffering, you continued to suffer.

Children were your retirement plan. So, when Jesus happened to stumble upon a funeral procession as he approached Nain, the grief wasn’t limited to the loss of a widow’s only son, it was grief at the loss of her future.

There is no question that the Bible describes, not only God’s commitment to seeing to the needs of the powerless (widows, orphans, strangers, outcasts), but God’s challenge to the powerful to see that actually happens. The prophets who railed against the injustice in their society ultimately blamed their downfall, not on the military power of their conqueror’s, but on the internal moral rot, and the particular refusal to address the needs of the powerless.

Listen to the words of Amos, “Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music; who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.” (Amos 6:4-7)

Or Isaiah, “How the faithful city has become a whore! She that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her— but now murderers! Your silver has become dross, your wine is mixed with water. Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the orphan, and the widow’s cause does not come before them.” (Isaiah 1:21-23)

Many would argue that the primary reason that the fledgling Christian community was so compelling to people in the first centuries of the church was how inclusive they were, and how responsive they were to the needs of the powerless, the sick, and the poorest of the poor.

Jesus raised the widow’s son from the dead. He could do that. But what he couldn’t do was immediately change the structures of society so that the poorest of the poor would be able to live with some measure of security and some hope of bettering their lot. That one is up to us.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you have given us this story of a widow whose son is restored to life. Today we pray for all of those parents who have lost children who have not been restored to life in this world. We pray for widows, orphans, the destitute, the poorest of the poor. Help us continue to build a society where justice, mercy, and compassion drive our vision for how life ought to be. Help us extend our sense of family to include the entire human family. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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