The Pilgrim God: Reflections on the Story of Jesus
32. The Widow Of Naim (Luke 7:11-17)
Soon after the cure of the centurion's servant, Jesus left Capharnaum accompanied by his apostles and the crowd which now seemed to follow him everywhere. They were approaching the little town of Naim some 30 miles south of Capharnaum when they were stopped by a funeral procession just making its way out of the town to the cemetery. The deceased was a young man, the only son of a widow. The whole town accompanied the procession, sharing in the mother's grief by their weeping and moaning.
Death was no more a stranger to that town than it is to us, but this death seemed particularly sad. The widow had lost her only dear companion and the only means of support that she could depend on for the rest of her life. She was now alone. At the moment she was consumed by grief for her absent love. Perhaps later on she would begin to wonder how she would live out the rest of her days without her son's support. Then she could very well fall into despair.
Jesus' companions stepped aside to allow the sad procession to pass, but Jesus stood in the center of the road and stopped its progress. We don't know if he wept on this occasion. We know that later on, as he stood by the grave of Lazarus, he did weep and there is a chance that he wept whenever he was faced with such misery. Of course he knew that those we call "dead" are truly alive and that in the future they will rise again. But even this consoling knowledge did not overcome the sympathy he felt for the sadness of those who were left behind.
Jesus, being human, could feel the pain that comes to survivors when the body and soul of a loved one fly apart in death never more to be reunited in time. Even more, he may have felt a sort of divine pain, thinking of the eternal separation that threatened his beloved human brothers and sisters who turn their back on God ... a separation of soul and God that Augustine would later call a "second death" more horrendous than the first in that it would never end.
This time Jesus determined to take immediate (if temporary) action against death. He turned to the woman and said:
"Do not weep, little mother."
It was not the first time that day that she had heard such kind but ineffective words. But this time they were not ineffective; they were said with power. Without further hesitation, without any elaborate ritual, without lengthy prayers to the God in heaven to "please do something!" Jesus simply touched the dead body and invoked his own power, saying:
"Stand up, my son!"
The dead young man came back to life at once and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
One can understand the fear and amazement that must have come over the crowd. Here was a person who had power over death! They cried:
"What is this power? Where did he get it?"
But soon, no doubt, there arose a third question:
"Why does he not use it more often?"
Perhaps they wagged their heads in anger as they whispered to each other:
He raised this one boy from death; what about the others who are not raised up, those whose surviving loves slowly waste away from the sickness of their absence?
It was not an unreasonable question. In 33 years of life before his own death, Jesus passed through many towns and saw many funeral processions. He only used his power to restore life a few times. In the rest of the cases, mothers were left without sons, children were left without parents, husbands and wives were left without their life-long loves. In all these other cases the survivors had to cope with the rest of their lives alone.
Perhaps as Jesus left Naim and passed the cemetery containing all those who had not been brought back to life, he said to the crowd:
What I did for the widow of Naim is not the usual way I conquer death. I brought this boy back to life but someday he will die again. The true answer to death is for every human to die well in the arms of God. Then they are assured of being with their loved ones for all eternity.
When this boy dies again, his mother will suffer again the pain of separation. Then my love will embrace her through the resurrected love of those good people who do care for her but for a time have forgotten that she exists. She will never be alone as long as she has one friend who truly believes in my message. These good people will become her new sons and daughters, her brothers and sisters in the spirit, and they will help her wait through that special period of longing which comes to every human heart that loses a love.
Jesus then continued his pilgrimage down the path that would lead to his own death two years hence.
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