The story of Jesus resurrecting the dead of the only son of a widow in Luke 7:11-17 took on fresh relevance for me during a recent Bible study at Tierra Nueva. Jesus’ visit interrupts death, modeling a unique activism desperately needed now. Later Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, because God’s people didn’t recognize the time of their visitation. Let’s see what God’s visitation in Jesus looks like.
Just prior to Jesus’ visit to Nain, he spoke from a distance in response to the plea of a centurion, healing his slave in Capernaum. A crowd then joins Jesus and his disciples as they approach the town of Nain. There a different crowd accompanies a widow as they leave the city to bury her only son. We look together in detail at how Jesus responds.
The story reads that “the Lord saw her,” which some of the women in our group who had been homeless, said is rare when you’re on the street.
“Most people don’t look at you. They don’t want to see you and feel obligated to help. So they ignore you and look away,” said Robin. “It means a lot when you feel seen.”
“If your partner had died and so had your son, what might people be thinking if they did look at you?” I ask.
“They’d think there was something wrong with you. That you’d been a bad wife or mother,” said a woman who had lost her husband. “They’d blame you for sure, and you’d feel the shame.”
I suggest that this mention of the Lord “seeing” links Jesus to the Exodus story, where God hears the cries and sees the suffering of his people and is mobilized to liberate them.
“The Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians (Ex 3:7-8).
So let’s see what Jesus does next,” I suggest, inviting someone to read the next few words.
“He felt compassion for her,” someone reads, leading to a conversation about how Jesus does not judge, but feels deeply for her, letting himself be affected at the gut level. Jesus’ next words are harder to interpret.
“And said to her, “Do not weep,” someone else reads.
“What do you think about Jesus telling this woman who’d lost her husband and now her son, to not weep?” I ask. “Why do you think he’d say this?” I continue.
Since we haven’t read the next verses and no one knows what’s going to happen, people aren’t sure how to understand Jesus. I suggest we read from Luke’s version of the beatitudes in the previous chapter, and we read Luke 6:21 and 6:25.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh (Lk 6:21)”… “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep” (Lk 6:25).
We wonder if Jesus is about to be that agent of blessing who will shift things for this grieving woman. Mourning is a state where you’re more in touch with your need for God.
And he came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother” (Lk 7:14-15).
We discuss together how Jesus moves closer to the woman’s dead son and then touches the coffin, which would make him unclean based on Mosaic law. But the superior power of the Holy Spirit that fills Jesus, makes clean that which is unclean.
We read together a few examples from Luke’s Gospel, as when he touches a leper who immediately becomes clean (Lk 5:13), and rebukes a Pharisee who secretly judges him for letting a sinful woman touch him (7:39).
Contact with Jesus brings relief to any sick person who touches him, “for power was coming from him and healing them all” (Lk 6:19).
The bearers of the dead boy come to a halt, as Jesus stops the death march in its tracks. He then directly addresses the dead man: “Young man, I say to you, arise!”
We struggle to get our heads around this scene, trying to imagine exactly what Jesus was doing, and what it means. We notice that Jesus directly speaks personally and respectfully to the dead, as if he was living: “young man, I say to you.” He gives the young man a direct command, “arise!” The young man sits up and begins to speak. Jesus then gives him back to his mother.
We are all struck by how Jesus interrupts death, reversing it for one family on the outskirts of Nain to restore a beloved son to his widowed mother.
“What would it look like for us to go out on the streets as a group like Jesus did here and now?” I ask our group. “Where might we come face to face with death processions like in this story?” I ask.
I talk about Jesus’ words to his disciples in Matthew 10:40: “the one who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me.
We talk about our outreach on Friday nights, where we go out on the streets and offer hot drinks and prayer to fentanyl users, most of whom have lost friends and been themselves revived with Narcan. We consider other ways we could intervene to interrupt death in our community, then summarize our findings and read the concluding verses.
Jesus’ actions of seeing, being moved with compassion, moving towards, touching and stopping the movement towards death can be enacted. Jesus speaks to the dead boy so personally and with such authority. This challenges us beyond our comfort zones. We read the final verse and can see this was certainly challenging for the crowd that witnessed this resurrection.
“Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and, “God has visited his people!” This report concerning him went out all over Judea and in all the surrounding district” (Lk 7:16-17).
I mention how God’s people awaited God’s visitation throughout the Old Testament, and here they were recognizing it. They saw this reversal of the young man’s death as a fulfillment of this expectation. We read the next verses about how John the Baptist sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the expected one, or if they should be looking for someone else. Luke’s Gospel recounts an amazing scene:
“At that very time he cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and he gave sight to many who were blind. And he answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the Gospel preached to them. Blessed is he who does not take offense at me” (Lk 7:21-23).
A week later, on Ash Wednesday we look at the story of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. Once again there’s a procession of Jesus’ disciples. This time Jesus is riding on a donkey down the Mount of Olives. I share how the Mount of Olives stands opposite Jerusalem and outside the walled city, where the Temple would have been visible as they processed.
“The whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen” (Lk 19:
When he approached Jerusalem, Jesus saw the city and wept over it. In contrast to his telling the widow in the midst of her grieving not to weep. Jesus speaks out his prophetic lament over the city:
“If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
Surrounded by his supporters, there on the outside of the center of power, Jesus weeps outside the gates of the city, much like the widow. “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace!”
As the USA and its NATO allies increasingly channel weapons to Ukraine, we see what looks like an unstoppable commitment to violence and war, “as long as it takes.” Meanwhile, inadequate state funding for detox and drug and alcohol treatment centers, homeless shelters, county court systems and public defenders, leads to death and the waste of lives, as prisoners are warehoused in our country jails and prisons.
Jesus laments the coming destruction of Jerusalem, and any center of power that ignores the way of peace. Hardness of heart leads to these ways of peace being hidden from our eyes.
“Because you did not recognize the time of your visitation!” concludes Jesus.
A few days ago I ventured the 45-minute drive to a neighboring county jail where a man I’ve known for over 27 years is incarcerated. I’d called beforehand and gotten the okay from the jail for my pastoral visit.
When I arrive I exchange my driver’s license for a plastic square with a visitor booth number on it. A steel door clicks open, giving me access to the visitor booth– a small room with a phone on the wall separating me by glass from an identical room. I wait for 30 minutes and my friend doesn’t show up. I go back to the attending officer, who tells me they aren’t going to allow me a visit. “Too busy today,” she says.
I tell her I’d come from 45 minutes away and had been guaranteed a visit when I phoned earlier, and this would be my third time being turned away in a week. She tells me she’ll see what she can do, and I return to my booth, sit down and wait. Was my time as an agent of visitation being unrecognized?
A guard eventually comes and opens the door on the other side, my friend eventually appears, and the visitation begins.
We’d been worried about my friend as there’d been some drug overdoses in the jail, and we weren’t sure if he was one of them. He had enrolled in our new Prisoner Certificate in Reading the Bible for Liberation course, and I was interested to see how that was going for him.
He tells me he has stayed clear of all the drugs, but that he was present when the first inmate overdosed on a blue fentanyl tab that had been smuggled into the jail. The man had dropped and had no pulse, but was revived by guards using Narcan. A few days later four more inmates dropped dead, due to overdosing on fentanyl powder that had been smuggled in.
“I jumped in and did my best to help, but the guards pushed me away and they revived them with Narcan, and rushed them to the Emergency Room,” he recounts. A few days later three more men “died” by overdose from the same batch and were revived using Narcan.
Meanwhile my friend tells me he’s made it through the first six Bible studies in Volume One of Guerrilla Bible Studies: Surprising Encounters with God.
“We’re meeting every day with six other inmates. Two of them want to sign up for the Certificate. One’s in on murder charges, so he’ll be doing a lot of time,” he tells me.
I sit in amazement that my friend is leading a daily Bible study right in the heart of a jail pod where all these overdoses are taking place. Certainly some are recognizing the time of their visitation, through my friend. And because he is there offering these studies, still more will have their eyes opened to see.
May we seek clear direction as to how we can step into our callings as interrupters of death and agents of God’s visitation.