September 19, 2023
Tuesday of the Twenty-Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Readings for Today
Jesus journeyed to a city called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd accompanied him. As he drew near to the gate of the city, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was with her. Luke 7:11–12
Try to imagine this mother. She had been married, she and her husband had a child, they raised their child, she and her son watched her husband die, and then she watched her son die and was participating in his funeral. Since he was her only son, she was now alone.
When we think about this woman, it is easy to feel compassion for her. Her heart would have been filled with a sorrow that is tangible to anyone with empathy. Her heart might also have been filled with fear. At that time, a widow would have had a very difficult time taking care of herself in a rural village. With her husband gone, she would have had to rely upon her son to provide for her as she aged. But now that he was gone, her heart would have not only felt the pain of his loss, but also fear for her future. What would become of her? Who would provide food for her year after year? Would she be reduced to begging and poverty?
It is in the context of this very real sorrow and fear that Jesus enters her life. We do not know if she knew anything about Jesus. It appears she was not one of His followers and might not have even heard about Jesus since He had not been ministering publicly for very long. Jesus’ encounter with her and her dead son appears to be unplanned and unexpected. What is it that moves Jesus to raise this man from the dead? It does not appear to be a response to anyone’s faith within the village. It is not even done at anyone’s request. Instead, it appears to be done purely out of Jesus’ compassion for this mother. At least that’s how it seems at first read. And though Jesus clearly acted out of compassion for her, if we consider the entire context, there might also be a secondary motive.
Jesus, his disciples and a large crowd were all walking together through this village. Since Jesus’ miracles were normally performed in response to people’s faith, it is most likely that faith was a contributing factor to this miracle. The faith that called forth this miracle, however, could only have come from the crowds of people who were walking with Jesus from Capernaum. The day prior, these same crowds witnessed Jesus heal the servant of a centurion. They clearly believed in Jesus. As they walked with Him and encountered this funeral procession, it was not only Jesus’ heart that was moved with compassion, it was also the hearts of His followers. Therefore, as Jesus’ followers witnessed this mother’s sorrow and then witnessed Jesus’ own human sorrow and compassion for her, they would have had hope that He would do something. Their hope would have been supernatural in origin, which means that it was also united with faith. By faith, they knew Jesus would act. Thus, in a very real way, the compassion, hope and faith of the people traveling with Jesus would have called forth His almighty power to heal, and Jesus responded.
There are many ways to act as mediators of God’s grace. One way to do so is by growing in compassion for others and hope in God. When we witness the sufferings of others, allow ourselves to feel compassion for them, manifest hope in the power of God to heal, and then stand there, in faith, waiting for God to act, God will be compelled to act. Our holy compassion, hope and faith act as a prayer to which God always responds. The crowds accompanying Jesus through the Village of Nain appear to have acted in this manner and, inspired by their witness, we, too, must act as intercessors for others in the same way.
Reflect, today, upon anyone in your life who resembles this widow of Nain. Who is it that God wants you to notice and to feel compassion for? As your empathetic heart notices those who need your compassion, open yourself, also, to the supernatural gift of hope. Have divine hope that God will heal them. As you do, allow that hope to manifest faith in God and offer that compassion, hope and faith to God as your prayer for those who are in need.
Most compassionate Lord, You are always attentive to our needs and our sorrows. Your Heart is filled with compassion for all. Please give me a truly empathetic heart so that I will see those in need. As I do, fill me with hope and faith that You will pour forth Your mercy upon them so that I will become an intercessor for all. Jesus, I trust in You.
Saint of the Day – Saint Januarius, Bishop and Martyr—Optional Memorial
Featured image above: Detail of the fourth stained glass window in the south aisle (counting from west to east, not counting the mortuary chapel), depicting the raising of the son of the widow of Nain, By Andreas F. Borchert, via Wikimedia Commons