When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” He stepped forward and touched the coffin; at this the bearers halted, and he said, “Young man, I tell you, arise” (Lk 7:13-14).
Jesus saw a widow and her only son in a casket. In the time of Jesus, this woman would have had little means to support or protect herself. Jesus’ immediate response to her was pity or compassion. The original Greek word used was splanchnizomai, meaning that Jesus was moved from the very depths of his bowels. The emotional depths to which Jesus was moved to reach out and help the widow of Nain, shows us his humanity. Jesus’ healing of the widow’s son, bringing him back from the dead, shows us his divinity. The entire event shows us the best of who we ought to aspire to as his followers.
Instead of fear, judgment, prejudice, or indifference, we are to follow the lead of Jesus and instead seek to understand, to place ourselves in the shoes of those who feel vulnerable, misunderstood, and find themselves on the margins. May our hearts, not be hearts of stone, but hearts of flesh so to be moved from the very depths of our innards with the same compassion of Jesus toward those, who, like the widow, are vulnerable, at-risk, and on the peripheries.
We as the Church, the Body of Christ, need to be more welcoming, hospitable, willing to walk with others and to share their journeys. We also need to go out beyond the walls of our churches and homes, not just wait for people to come to us and be more present to and more willing to accompany them. We also need to listen to their stories, needs, and pleas and seek, in collaboration with those whom we encounter, to explore viable options to address those needs. All the while, each step of the way, we need to remember to respect and empower those we walk with as human beings created in the image and likeness of God. In this way, we may often find that we are helped more than we help!
As we begin today and each day, let us pray that God may open our hearts and minds to see the vulnerable among us, to be aware of those in our midst, those who are in need, those needing someone to be present, to be understood, even those in our own families. May we be more willing to allow the Holy Spirit to stretch us so that we are able to love more, to expand more, so we are more willing to experience those for whom in the past that we have discounted or rationalized reasons for not helping.
JoAnn would often pray for God to reveal to her one person that she could help each day, to guide her to whom and how she could reach out to someone in need. Prayer is the best way to begin, as not only will God lead us and give us greater awareness, he will also give us the means to be present and ways to assist lifting another up, like the widow that Jesus had compassion for in today’s Gospel. If we can see others as human beings, as brothers and sisters, not as somehow less or other, but with dignity, we will be moving in the direction of being able to act with the same compassion of Jesus.
Painting: “The Resurrection of the Widow’s Son at Nain” by James Tissot, 1890, online collection from the Brooklyn Museum