Reflections on the Widow at Nain in Luke 7:11-17
A Retelling of The Widow at Nain
Some of the most tragic words you will ever hear in life are, “They lost their son.” Or, “They lost their daughter.” Having officiated the funerals of a 29 year old son, a 20 year old son, and an infant son, I can tell you there are no words that bring comfort. There is nothing that eases that pain. There’s just deep aching sorrow.
And we find these words penned down in Luke chapter 7. And it wasn’t just a mother who had lost her son. It was a widow who had lost her only son. She was familiar with death. When you say these words out loud, and you feel them, all you can feel is suffering and death. All you can feel is tragedy. She had lost her husband. And not only did she lose a son, she lost her only son. The family that she had poured her life into was gone.
Surrounded by a crowd of people, in a funeral procession leaving the city, she was as alone as alone gets. There’s a word for a partner who loses their spouse, widow. And there’s a word for a child who loses their parent, orphan. But there are no words for a parent who loses their child. Life isn’t supposed to be that way, and the only way to even describe the pain this woman was in is by understanding in a crowd filled with love for the woman, all she could feel was loss. She didn’t just feel the sting of death. It had knocked life right out of her.
And Jesus knows this as he’s nearing the town of Nain. He sees the boy being carried out. He see’s the grieving widow. He senses death and despair that has soaked the air. Walking up to the widow, he says please don’t cry. Touching the funeral bier, Jesus speaks words of life into the young man, get up. And the young man gets up and begins to talk.
The biggest miracle of the day wasn’t Jesus raising someone from the dead. It was Jesus reuniting a lost son with his mother again. And just as there are no words to describe the pain the mother had been feeling moments earlier, there are no words to describe the joy she would have been feeling when reunited with her son.
So who Jesus? Saying he’s the one who saves us from our sin isn’t adequate. Jesus is the one who reunites mothers with lost sons. The one who breathes life into broken relationships. The one who brings addicts back from the brink of the grave. Jesus is the one who takes our lives wrecked by death and says get up. Jesus is the one who is Resurrection, breathing life into even death itself, both in the here and now, and the here after.
Every story can be broken down into a few parts. The setting, where the story takes place and why it might be important. The characters and their emotions and thoughts invested in the story. A tension that needs resolved. A resolution that brings us through the tension, and a through line (aka main idea) that carries the story through from beginning to end.
The Setting After the miracle of healing a Centurions servant at a distance, Jesus visits the town of Nain and a large crowd, along with the disciples follows him as he heads to the town of Nain.
- Jesus – who resurrects and reunites a son with his mother
- The mother – who not only has lost her son, but also her husband. She’s a widow. But there is no term for a mother who loses her son. Word’s can’t describe that pain. Now that she has lost her son, she has become especially vulnerable in society. This being her only son, must have brought her pain that’s indescribable.
- The son – who has died and is being led out of the city in a funeral procession. Jesus resurrects the son and reunites him with his mother.
The Tension A widow has lost her only son. The words are tragic. They communicate so many things. Vulnerability. Grief. Torment. Loss.
The Resolution The biggest miracle Jesus performs in Nain isn’t resurrection. It is reuniting a mother with her lost son. In this moment, we have an image of what the kingdom of God is like. Reunions that remove all the pain.
The Through Line Jesus brings life.
Why has this story endured? Jesus takes what is utter torment in someones life and turns it on its head, breathing life back into a lost loved one. We know in the very end both the son and widow both die. But in the very very end, because of who Jesus is, they’ll enjoy that kinship forever.
What is true for them then that is still true for us today? Pain and loss. It sucks life right out of us. When we lose someone, it’s as if a part of us dies. THE ONLY answer that can bring us any hope, is Jesus.
How does this story help us love God? Death doesn’t get the final word over us. Jesus does. Jesus’ final word over us is love. For God loved the world so much, that he sent his one and only son, that whoever would believe wouldn’t perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
How does this story help us love others? We can offer hope that’s not an alternative to the pain in this world, but transformative to the pain in this world. Our call to love our neighbor must be steeped in compassion. Jesus didn’t enter Nain and say get right or else. Before anyone did anything or said anything, Jesus showed compassion to a Widow who had lost her only son.