The Humanity of the Lord
In the Gospel Reading, Jesus and a crowd of people are entering Nain when they meet a widowed mother and a bier carrying the dead body of her only son. Jesus says to her, “Do not weep!” Then he halts the procession by touching the bier, and he speaks to the body of her son: “Young man, I tell you, arise!” And the dead man does arise!
There other cases of Jesus’ raising of the dead,* but there is something special about this case.**
In general, Jesus does miracles in response to requests for help; certainly, in other cases he raises the dead because someone has asked him for help. Jairus petitions Jesus to heal his daughter, and Lazarus’s sisters send to Jesus for help when Lazarus is dying. But no one asks Jesus for help in the case of the widow’s son. In this unusual case, Jesus sizes up the situation without anyone’s telling him anything about the weeping woman or her son. Somehow he seems to know that she is a widow and that this is her only child; and he is moved with pity for her. Without anyone’s recognizing who he is, or asking him for anything, or showing any sign of faith in him, Jesus initiates the miracle and raises the dead man.
Why does Jesus do this?
Maybe when he sees the widow of Nain heartbroken over the death of her only son, the case of his own mother pierces his heart. We don’t know who was in that large crowd accompanying Jesus to Nain, but his mother does travel with him at least sometimes. Maybe she was there with him at Nain. Jesus is her only son too, and she is also a widow when Jesus dies. When Jesus dies, then she will be heartbroken and weeping for her only son. In his humanity, Jesus may be moved by the weeping widow of Nain to compassion not only for her but also for his own mother.
So maybe Jesus initiates this miracle to comfort both these women. Maybe he hopes that when his mother is weeping for him at the foot of his cross, the memory of his restoring the son of the widow of Nain to his weeping mother will come into the mind of his own mother, to comfort her, to help her wait till his resurrection. His love for his mother is in this miracle.
* In fact, there are cases of the raising of the dead in the Old Testament, too. Elijah and Elisha each raise a person from the dead (I Kings 17:17-22 and 2 Kings 4:20-36), and the remains of Elisha also raise a dead person (2 Kings 13:21).
** This is not the only time Jesus raises someone from the dead. He also raises the daughter of Jairus, ruler of the synagogue, (Luke 8:40) and his friend Lazarus (John 11). And there are some noteworthy things that all three cases have in common. For example, in each case, Jesus raises the dead person not by stretching himself on the dead person (in the manner of the Old Testament prophets when they raise the dead), or by any other kind of as-it-were magical touching. In each case in which Jesus raises the dead, he does so by talking in second-personal address to the dead person. How should we understand this? Maybe Jesus is speaking to the living soul of the dead person. Or maybe even a dead body can respond to the Word of its Creator.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University