How Did Jesus Know?

Luke 7:11-17 – The 3rd Sunday following Pentecost – for Sunday, June 5, 2016

“When he saw her, the Lord had compassion for her and said, ‘Don’t cry.’” (Luke 7:13)

Jesus Resurrecting the Son of the Widow of Naim (oil on canvas)How did Jesus know the widow from Nain was a widow?

As an outsider to Nain, how did he easily and quickly identify her and her situation?

It was real easy to spot her as a woman.

It was relatively easy to see she was part of a funeral procession.

Perhaps from her emotional reactions, most could guess the funeral involved her child.

But how could a “stranger” know she was also a widow?

Her neighbors knew. They also knew that without husband and son, without income and status, she was dependent on Israel’s charitable customs and the limited generosity of other impoverished villagers.

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Last Thursday, I chatted with our only African-American male chaplain before our hospice’s monthly Remembrance Service. I’ve known he was black since the first day I met him.

Last Wednesday, the death-of-spouse grief support group I’ve led since February finished its twelfth and final session. I’ve known since the first gathering that everyone who walked into the room and put on a nametag was a widow or widower.

Last Tuesday (or any other day), when I entered into my office at the hospice’s Center for Grief and Healing, every colleague I greeted was a woman. Of the dozen part and full-time employees, I am the only man. Since my first day on the job, I’ve known they were women.

Many things are obvious. Any fool can see them!

How did Jesus know the widow from Nain was a widow?

It could be said he knew because Jesus knew everything. Some Christians fully and faithfully embrace Jesus the Christ as omniscient. He knew she was a widow because, well, he was Jesus.

Omniscience doesn’t satisfy me.

And yet I do believe Jesus confidently, compassionately knew the woman was a grieving mother and a widow. My belief is merely mine, a flimsy notion based on my bias, my experiences (or lack of), my education (or lack of), and—most important of all—my foolish faith. I believe Jesus viewed the world through eyes wide-open to the powerless, vulnerable, neglected, bullied, misunderstood, abandoned, to the poor of spirit, and the poor of earthly treasures. This meant those same eager, alert eyes quickly spotted greed, deceit, and abuse of power.

And there she was, arguably the most vulnerable person in Nain: a grieving mother and widow. Protect the widows and the orphans, the Torah proclaimed. (One example of this edict and tradition is found at Deuteronomy 26:12-13).

Luke’s sparsely worded tale had a happy ending as Jesus commanded the dead son with, “Young man, I say to you, get up.”

The young man did; hope was restored.

The woman remained a widow, but in Nain, in ancient Galilee, in that grim corner of the Roman Empire, it made all the difference in her world to have a living son rather than a child buried in the earth.

Miracle? I believe so.

Done by a miracle worker? I believe so.

Done because eyes were wide open to love and mercy? I am sure of it.

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2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon
2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon

I am hurting as I read and write about a hopeless, helpless widow in Luke’s Gospel . . . while also reading the headlines from the 2016 General Conference of my United Methodist Church. As far as I’m concerned—this is my belief and ignore it for I am biased and angry and perplexed—those in LGBTQ community are the modern version of the widow of Nain.

In recent weeks, over a hundred of my clergy colleagues publicly announced they were gay. Who knew they were gay until they “came out?” Oh sure, some did. But unlike discrimination against African-Americans (officially deemed less than full citizens by the U.S. Constitution until 1868) or women (unable to vote until the 19th Amendment 1920), queers have to announce they are queer to be rejected, humiliated, and disenfranchised.

How odd.

How did Jesus know the widow from Nain was a widow?

I believe Jesus the Christ had eyes wide open to the suffering of the world, to the people who were cast aside and ignored and abandoned. And he brought them life. Hope. A future.

Over thirty years ago a colleague in ministry came out to me as gay. He said, at the time, I was the only one he could tell. Why did he trust me with his secret? I truly don’t know. He was bright, gifted, and faithful. He led a vibrant youth group for the church he served as an associate pastor. Unlike dull, introverted me, it seemed obvious he was a future mover-and-shaker in our denomination.

He committed suicide a few years later.

I have always believed secrecy killed him. Discrimination killed him. Fear killed him. Intolerance killed him. The self-serving and mean-spirited love the sinner but hate the sin mantra killed him.

rainbowchurchFor me the dreary debate about homosexuality and the Bible has been over for decades. For my foolish faith, nothing in scripture justifies any Christian-based condemnation of anyone who is LGBTQ. As United Methodists, we are long past time to openly celebrate same-gender marriages, or to ordain queer men and woman who are pretty much not any different than not-queer men and women experiencing a call to the ministry.

But on we talk.

On we debate.

On we trivialize Jesus into a stingy lover of some people, but not all.

On we send grieving people out to the literal and metaphoric graveyards, keeping them powerless and vulnerable, closing our eyes and averting our heads and all I can do is weep.

[Painting: Pierre Bouillon (1776-1831) – Jesus Resurrecting the Son of the Widow of Nain]

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