Jesus isn't the only figure in the Bible to be resurrected. Three other resurrection stories, connected to Elijah and Elisha, appear in Hebrew scripture and, in Christian scripture, one person's raised by Peter, one by Paul and three by Jesus, as well as the "many saints who ... came out of the tombs after his resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people" (Matt. 27:52-53). They're all rich stories that you should read, but I'm only interested in one of them this week, the encounter between Jesus and his followers and the funeral procession of a man, led by his widowed mother, leaving the town of Nain (Luke 7:11-17).
Jesus, says Luke, "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." Everyone is amazed and praises God, calling Jesus a great prophet.
This is one of three stories of Jesus raising people from the dead. There's Lazarus, whom Jesus knew and was his friend; the daughter of Jairus, a leader in the synagogue who begged Jesus to come and help his daughter; and this un-named man that Jesus meets on the road, who's mother doesn't ask for help and whom Jesus doesn't know.
So first off, let's be clear about compassion: just like grace and forgiveness and love, it requires no setup or response from the receiver. It's an act of giving, without demand or condition and available to all. It requires no begging or familiarity, no act of faith or statement of belief. And, when freely given, as it is by Jesus here, it's life-giving. Jesus doesn't just restore the man to life, he restores the widow's life, too. To first lose her husband and then her son, this woman would have had nothing and no one to care for her or protect her. Jesus restores them both and continues on his way.
That's compassion as modelled by Jesus. So here's something to think about: how's your compassion? Do you see others' hurts or pain? Can you find sympathy or empathy? Or do you have boundaries or restrictions? Maybe you're overwhelmed by your own challenges?
It bears some hard thinking about because here's a great example of compassion that we should follow. But there's something else to think about here, too, another perspective. We might want to be like Jesus in this story. But what if we're the widow? Or the dead man?
The way of Jesus is life-giving.
Here's something I think about when I hear this story. We seem to be hearing a lot about how the church is dead, is dying or, for that matter, has been dead for some time. I suspect, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the church's death have been greatly exaggerated. But it is dead to many, perhaps, because it seems no longer relevant or meaningful or supportive.
What if the dead man in this story is the church? What if the widow's the world?
There's not really any indication in the story, but I wonder what the man and his mother's lives were like before he died. There seems to be a crowd gathered for his funeral, so perhaps he was known in the community. Perhaps he kept busy with the ordinariness of life, working had to make enough to live, being a good, solid member of the community, but generally consumed with day to day life. Here's where their life journey, the dead man and his mother, has brought them, to a roadside encounter with Jesus.
I wonder, sometimes, if we aren't on that same road. And there's Jesus, looking with compassion, inviting us to rise up again and saying, in the language of John's gospel, come and follow, live the way I show you, because it's true and the way to new life.