Raising of the Widow’s Son (Luke 7:11-17)

Raising of the Widow’s Son

11 Soon afterward he journeyed to a city called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd accompanied him.

12 As he drew near to the gate of the city, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was with her.

13 When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and said to her, “Do not weep.”

14 He stepped forward and touched the coffin; at this the bearers halted, and he said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!”

15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.

16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, exclaiming, “A great prophet has arisen in our midst,” and “God has visited his people.”

17 This report about him spread through the whole of Judea and in all the surrounding region.

By now we’re well acquainted with the idea that Chapters and pericopes are divisions that have been added to the Bible for our convenience.  They are not, themselves, part of Divine Revelation and so we sometimes need to be on our guard – just because my Bible separates two stories doesn’t mean that I should think they are disconnected.  In my estimation the first three pericopes in Luke Chapter 7 fall into this category.  That is, the first pericope flows nicely into the second and the second pericope flows nicely into the third.  The first sets up the second, and the second sets up the third.

Recall that in the previous pericope the centurion had faith that Christ had the power to save his servant from death.  That is, Jesus has power over life and death.  In this story, we see plainly that Jesus doesn’t just cure; He can restore life.  But before we look at how people responded to this resurrection from the dead, let’s look closely at the scene leading up to it.

A widow’s young son has died – a young man, he was her only son. It’s bad enough anytime a parent has to burry a child, but in the first century when a widow buried her only son there were some practical ramifications that couldn’t be ignored.  Almost everyone in the first century lived day-to-day.  They didn’t have 401 (k)’s or any other kind of retirement plan.  Their children were their social security.  Part of the blessing of having children was that you would have someone who would honor you and take care of you in your senior citizen years.  A poor widow, on her own, had no real way of earning her own living. So when her only son died, her situation became dire. Not only is she dealing with the grief of losing her son, she is also looking into an uncertain, but probably bleak future.

As you picture this scene, we can imagine the large crowd of people following the coffin and the widow.  They would have had very heavy hearts. For them, this truly is a sad day.  Further, as we picture the scene we can imagine the large crowd following Christ. He had just saved the centurion’s servant the day before.  They know of His miracles and His preaching.  They would have been filled with joy and wonder.  These two large crowds meet one another at the gates of the city Nain and then all come to a halt. (Note also that verse 13 say that Christ was “moved with pity for her”; this can also be translated as “moved with compassion for her”.)

This setting prefigures the life giving gift that Christ has for us.  In this scene, one crowd follows death while the other crowd follows the giver of life.  When they meet, everyone stops.  Jesus returns the man to life.  This is cause for great joy – but how did the crowds respond?  Scripture tells us that “fear seized them all” (verse 16).  Sometimes “fear” may have a meaning beyond being scared*; sometimes it does in fact mean “to be scared”, and this is one of those times.  A great miracle has happened and they should all be overjoyed.  Instead they are fearful.  Why might this be?

I contend that often, if humans perceive themselves as being in the divine presence, then fear is their response.  After all, on a fundamental level, all sinners fear judgment. In the letter to the Hebrews we are told “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31).  When Isaiah perceived himself in the divine presence he said “I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne … Then I said, ‘Woe is me, I am doomed! … my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!’” (see Is 6:1-5)  In this story, a man has been raised from the dead and only God can do that.

Nevertheless, even in their fear, they glorified God and said “God has visited his people.  We further read that this report spread throughout the surrounding country.  In the next pericope we’ll see what effect that has.

Our prayerful response should be to ponder these two large crowds that came face-to-face; one following death and the other following the giver of life.  We should pray to appreciate how the compassion of Christ moves Him to restore us to life.

* Sometimes in the Old Testament scripture we’ll read fear in the context of “fear of the Lord”.  Since there is no biblical Hebrew word for “religion” the term “fear of the Lord” was used to express a reverence for God, or religion.  However, biblical Greek does offer words that translate as “religion”.  The root word used here means fear as in scared.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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