Sermon for Luke 7:11-17 - How To Rise Above Discouragement
Jesus Raises A Widow's Son - Proper 5


It's a dramatic scene when you think about it -- I mean -- a funeral procession halted and the trip to the cemetery interrupted. Of course it was not anything like our scene -- a black Cadillac hearse, followed by one or more black Cadillac limousines, followed perhaps by several cars, lights on, concerned not to lose their place in the line in the traffic.

No, this scene was at once more primitive and personal. No city traffic to contend with in this procession. No indifferent motorists disturbed that they were delayed a few minutes for the funeral. No, this is a village scene, people on foot, following the widowed mother who is following the professional mourners with their cymbals, flutes and high-pitched shrieking and wailing.

It is a Palestinian village scene in Nain, just a short distance from Nazareth (Jesus' hometown), and a day's walk from Capernaum (Jesus' new, adopted town). The pallbearers are carrying the body of a young man in a long wicker basket covered by a shroud for burial outside the city. Except for very important people, ancient Jews buried their dead outside the city, usually on the day of death or the next day. Embalming was not practiced.

For modern, indifferent eyes and blasť people, the scene was dramatic enough by itself. Think of it: the dead man was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. The pathos and sorrow of the ages is contained in that statement. In a patriarchal society orphans, such as this young man, and widows, like his mother, were regarded as vulnerable, weak and without much opportunity for economic support. Nonetheless, a great crowd followed the procession, indicating sympathy and support at least for the time being.

That's drama enough -- a large crowd of caring people -- but now there is more. Jesus approaches, apparently coming from Capernaum where he just healed the Roman Centurion's slave. He saw the widowed, desolate mother, had compassion for her, thinking perhaps of his own mother reputedly widowed at an early age.

"Do not weep," he told her. Her tears for her son no doubt now intermingling with the endless salty tears shed for her husband. And in the continuing drama risking ceremonial impurity, he reached out, touched the bier and possibly the body, and the procession halted.

Can you see the modern setting -- someone halting the hearse, opening the door of the limousine, telling the widowed mother in mourning black not to weep, and then saying beside the coffin, "Young man, I say to you, arise." Startling indeed, and startling enough in first century Palestine which had a tradition of miracle stories of great prophets like Elijah and Elisha raising widows' sons from the dead. And the young man sat up and began to speak, and like Elijah and Elisha before Jesus, the new great prophet gave the son back to his mother.

Talk about rising above discouragement! Talk about overcoming the greatest obstacle to human fulfillment. Talk about overcoming life's defeats: this was it -- Jesus raising this young man from the dead as he had Jairus' daughter and Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha.

He didn't raise everybody physically from the dead of course, just as he didn't heal everybody. But what he did do then and still does today, is to help everyone rise above discouragement. And that's where we focus today -- rising above discouragement.
  1. We Must Not Deny Reality
  2. We Must Consider the Alternatives
  3. We Must Allow Ourselves to Be Touched by Christ

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