Luke 7: 11-15
11 A little later Jesus went to a city called Nain. His disciples and a great crowd traveled with him. 12 As he approached the city gate, a dead man was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was with her. 13 When he saw her, the Lord had compassion for her and said, “Don’t cry.” 14 He stepped forward and touched the stretcher on which the dead man was being carried. Those carrying him stood still. Jesus said,“Young man, I say to you, get up.” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.
This story is a reminder that everyone has a story.
Now, in my 16 years of ministry, and even when I was a speech therapist, I’ve heard some stories that were believable right away. And I’ve heard stories that were almost fantastical. And the truth is I’ve become a bit guarded and even skeptical at times – which is not at all like me.
In our world today, that’s how we are expected to act. But Jesus calls us to another way – a way of compassion.
Compassion for everyone!
So, what is compassion? What words come to your mind? Care, concern, love, kindness, sympathy, empathy are a few I think of.
Instead, what do we see more of in our world today?
Skepticism, hatred, slander, calling names, intolerance, inhumaneness, unkindness. The opposite!
What has happened to us? Have we become so centered focused, so intent our getting all we can get out of life, that we have forgotten how to be compassionate in this world?
This story reminds us that we can learn compassion again if we can see with Jesus’ eyes, if we respond with our hearts, and if we believe that our touch also has the power to heal.
A couple of years ago, I visited Boston, staying downtown, next to Faneuil Hall, the Freedom Trail, The Old North Church, Paul Revere’s home and many more historical sites. It was January when I went and cold, Snowing much of the time.
My daughter and I would walk everywhere, even at night. The one thing that saddened me terribly was the number of homeless people sleeping up beside a building, trying to stay out of the snow. One night, while the snow was coming down pretty hard, a homeless man came into our hotel. He just wanted to sit down and get warm, before moving on his way. The motel staff and security physically threw him out. It moved me to tears.
Homelessness is a crisis in our world today. And everyone has a story. Some are addicted, some are not. Some are runaways, some are not. Some have families, some do not. Some used to work or serve in the military, and some have never held a job for more than a few weeks at a time, and some have just lost a job. But everyone has a story. Over 15 million people in the US are homeless! How could we let this happen?
Because they aren’t like us. We don’t know them. They have problems too big for us. Really?
If we are honest, we have made people who are experiencing homelessness invisible people. We drive past them standing on the corner begging for money and think that they will just buy drugs with any money. We judge them – well they just need to pull themselves up by the boot straps and do what it takes to get a job or help or a place to live. And we pass on by, not giving it another thought.
Where is our compassion? Can we really learn it again?
Before Jesus came into the city of Nain, he had taught in the synagogue, he had healed people, called the disciples to follow him, and had given a big speech about how God wanted the people to live. He continues on his journey, proclaiming love and faith and healing people.
There is a great crowd with him. I can imagine it would have been comparable to following the Pope through the city streets. And here he comes to the gate of the city of Nain and there is a funeral taking place. Also with a great crowd of people.
In the south, whenever a hearse comes down the road, leading the family to the cemetery, we pull our cars over as a sign of respect to the family – even on the interstate. I wonder why Jesus didn’t just stand to the side and let this crowd go through. Perhaps it is because he saw the pain on the mother’s face.
He saw her. He didn’t just look at her. But he saw her pain! He understood her need.
I’m not saying that every time we look someone in the eyes that we will understand all that they need, but we will see their humanity. And if we practice that one thing – eye contact – we will begin to see the face of God in this person.
It’s so much easier to just avoid that. Ever ride a bus? People are on their phones, reading the paper, or listening to music. Very little eye contact on a bus. Jesus didn’t have to look at her – he had a crowd with him – probably people making suggestions – hey Jesus there is a huge crowd coming – a funeral or something, let’s just stop here and let them by and then we can go into the city.
It’s easier to be disconnected! But it is damaging our ability to understand one another, to see their pain, to be connected as human beings. When did we get like this?
When Jesus connected with this woman, a widow who had now lost her son – perhaps the only person who was caring for her in the world – he responded. Not with logic or referral to an agency, but with his heart.
I think about the woman who runs the only cold weather shelter in our city at the Zion Lutheran Church. She has responded with her heart. This is the ONLY cold weather shelter in our city!! In a population of over 32,000. McMinnville, with a population of almost 34,000 has 4 cold weather shelters!
I heard when I moved here that Newberg had the highest number of churches per capita in Oregon. And yet, we only have one cold weather shelter. Only one small women’s shelter for emergency housing. And a huge number, and growing, of homeless people. Where are all the compassionate Christ followers?
Can we respond with our hearts? Will we?
Jesus responded quickly to meet need and in doing so he touched the funeral pall on which the man who was dead was being carried. What a mistake! It was prohibited for a Jew to touch anything of the dead – even to be in a tent with a dead body was prohibited! If one did that, they had to stay apart from the community for seven days and then go before a priest and be cleansed.
He knew this! And yet responding with his heart, he touched the stretcher. Everyone stood still. And then he told the man to get up…and he did.
He touched something that wasn’t supposed to be touched.
For many years I worked with children who had severe communication disorders. Those with profound speech impairments, with multiple cognitive deficits. One child I remember in particular was blind and he was unable to walk. He was very delayed – all from being shaken as a baby. Now he was in foster care. A child that no one wanted to touch. Another child was suffering with Down Syndrome. He too was unable to walk and talk, was deaf. And to make matters worse, his inability to communicate caused him to have violent outbursts. A child no one wanted to touch.
And yet, the power of touch, of care, of compassion and love helped tremendously. I watch these boys learn words, hug people, smile.
Can we touch people who aren’t supposed to be touched? Maybe a pat on the arm, or holding a hand. The power of touch to communicate compassion is real! And it comes from God!
Love God. Love others. So simple and yet so hard for most of us.
May we practice seeing with the eyes of Jesus, responding to the needs of others with our hearts, and using the power of touch to communicate love.