Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

1 oct 2017

6pm at Southwark:
Eucharist (Traditional Rite)

Preacher: The Revd Alison Tyler, Minor Canon

Readings: Luke 7:11


Some of the least attractive characteristics of human beings are that we always want more, we are always asking for things, looking for things to buy, if we are in trouble we demand that someone sorts it out for us and makes it better. When death comes into our lives, we will have a whole raft of different possible responses from denial to anger, grief and sorrow, to demands to someone, anyone, to make it better.

The widow of Nain has lost her only son. She's exposed as helpless and vulnerable, totally destitute. She is without a male protector in a man-dominated world. She has now lost not just her husband, but also her only son, and the support and status and future that he provided. She could not provide for herself, and would be dependent on the charity of others until she too died. Of course there is weeping and wailing. Deep pain calls for loud lament. That's the way the community will make their journey to the graveyard. Death exposes the frailty of life. It reminds us all that we too will die, so in Nain the whole community will be involved in marking the end of the life of anyone important.

Jesus, some of his disciples and some of those who have followed him from Capernaum, where he had demonstrated his power by healing the centurion’s servant, are on their way into the city when they met the funeral procession coming out. Jesus saw the woman, read the situation instantly and correctly as it turns out, and He had compassion on her and raised her son from the dead.

The widow herself said nothing, she asked for nothing, made no demands, and took no active part in the miracle. She did not have to have demonstrated strong faith or hope to receive from the Lord what must surely have been her heart’s desire. Jesus had compassion on her- compassion is the word Luke chooses, and, in fact, places at the centre of this telling of the story of Jesus and the widow. In the Greek, the root word for "compassion" makes reference to the entrails of the body, the guts. In the thinking of Jesus’ day, this is where the most intimate and intense emotions were located — especially emotions of care and love and concern. When a person was deeply moved, this is where they would feel it, in the gut. In our modern thinking compassion encompasses empathy, sensitivity, warmth, love, tenderness, gentleness, and mercy.

The main issue for Luke here is not the power of Jesus, but His compassion. We read in modern translations of Luke that Jesus' heart went out to the widow. This is what the gospel writer wants to emphasize. Luke is telling us that Jesus cares about powerless people in a big way. He works with us in miserable situations, in dark and difficult circumstances, because He cares. The widow is restored to a place of protection and safety. In giving back her son, Jesus blesses this widow with a future. And it’s not her faith or her prayer or her expectation, but it's the Lord's compassion that explains what He does. As we read in Matthew 9 ‘Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. ….when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.’ It is the Lord’s overall response to the human condition, his heart goes out to those who are suffering.

In Jesus, we see in human form acted out for us what is in God's heart, the deep compassion and love He has for each one of us. In Jesus, we are invited to see and respond to God's desire to come close to us and share life with us. He wants to make His home in our hearts so that He can draw near to the centre of our brokenness and be present to the wounds and fears and struggles of our lives. In Jesus, we are invited to celebrate God's compassion and God’s willingness to remain with us and alongside us, no matter what it costs, to take the risks and to pay the price of compassion, the terrible price of the Cross and of its agony, a darkness and judgment and a curse we can never fully understand. We can only give thanks and share the glory and the good news of God’s presence, God’s compassion and companionship with us in the good times and in the dark places of our lives.