Summary: Jesus reacted to the needs of a grieving widow with love and compassion. His words and actions transformed lives and honored God.
Luke 7:11-17 “Moved by Compassion”
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.
It is well, with my soul, It is well, it is well, with my soul.
These words are the first stanza and refrain to one of Christianity’s favorite hymns. Like many hymns it was written out of the crucible of life—in this particular instance a very great time of grief.
“It Is Well with My Soul" was penned by hymnist Horatio Spafford. It was written after several traumatic events in Spafford’s life. The first was the death of his only son in 1871, shortly followed by the great Chicago Fire which ruined him financially (he had been a successful lawyer). Then in 1873, he had planned to travel to Europe with his family on the SS Ville du Havre, but sent the family ahead while he was delayed on business concerning zoning problems following the Great Chicago Fire. While crossing the Atlantic, the ship sank rapidly after a collision with a sailing ship, the Loch Earn, and all four of Spafford's daughters died. His wife Anna survived and sent him the now famous telegram, "Saved alone." Shortly afterwards, as Spafford traveled to meet his grieving wife, he was inspired to write these words as his ship passed near where his daughters had died.
TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS
Life has its ups and downs. We celebrate job promotions and endure salary cutbacks. “D’s” and “F’s” nudge parents down the road of exasperation and despair, while “A’s,” can send them into an almost ethereal bliss. We celebrate the Suns victory over the Spurs and grieve their loss to the Lakers. All are part of this wonderful, but broken, world in which we live. The French coined the term, “C’est la vive.”
There are times when life’s happenings become almost intolerable. Mr. Spafford, the writer of “It is Well with My Soul.” Is a good example of this? The woman at Nain is another.
Life was not easy for the woman. She was a single parent; her husband had died. Now she was grieving the death of her only son—the apple of her eye. With him not only went her reason for living, but also her connection to the community and to the temple. She had nothing left. Her hopelessness and despair grab at the heart of anyone who reads her story.
I suspect that most of us have at one time or another felt overwhelmed and beat down by life. We have been bent and broken by the weight of life and fear that if one more thing happens to us we will be crushed. These times have taken all of our strength merely to survive, and we have nothing left over for faith. The words of the Bible are empty, and our prayers barely get out of our mouths.
COMPASSION VS FAITH
These are troubling times for us, because we know that faith is an important part of the Christian life and vital for us to experience the abundant life. The story of the woman at Nain comforts us in such times.
Faith is emphasized a lot in the Christian church, and justifiably so. In the previous verses, the faith of a Centurion is praised by Jesus and the man’s servant is healed. In several other instances, Jesus says, “Your faith has made you well.”
The interesting thing about this story is that faith is never mentioned. The woman probably didn’t know a thing about who Jesus was. The disciples hadn’t brought the woman to Jesus and asked him to help her. Jesus had simply appeared and had compassion on the woman. That changed everything.
As vital as faith is, it is not what sustains us. It is Jesus’ compassion and grace that enable to go through whatever life has for us. It is Jesus that transforms us and the situations that we find ourselves in, also.
Jesus enters that picture. He comes in the “knick” of time. The village people are carrying the bier with the body to the burial grounds. It often seems that Jesus acts at the last possible moment to change and transform things.
Jesus breaks social customs and touches the body. This act makes him ritually unclean. He speaks and his words bring life. In other healing stories, Jesus makes mud or has the person wash. This healing has no external elements. The scene is similar to creation when God spoke and his words created. Jesus spoke and the man was healed.
Jesus speaks and we are comforted.
Jesus speaks and the situations are transformed.
Jesus tells the woman not to weep. As Ecclesiastes says (3:4), there is a time for weeping and a time for laughter. Jesus was present and it was time to celebrate. The people praised God for the love and grace that they experienced. Jesus was present and they know that God surrounding them with his love.
We can join them in their praise, because Jesus is present with us, too.