As [Jesus] approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” (Luke 7:12-13)
Pastor Jim, in his Sunday sermon, gave me one of those reminders that I need to hear perennially: “Jesus’s vocation is to be the savior of the world. That’s not your vocation. It’s already taken. You have something else to do.”
And as I read this Bible story, I’m thinking: Aaah. That must be how he gets away with it.
How else could you explain Jesus’ chutzpah in seeing a woman who has already lost her husband, and has just lost her only son, and because of all that is probably not only in the overwhelming pain of grief, but also in the overwhelming stress of financial uncertainty — how could Jesus look her in the eyes in the middle of her son’s funeral procession and say to her: “Do not weep”?
Surely only the savior of the world could get away with it. Only the One who is about to touch her son’s funeral bier, say, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” and then help the dead man down off the funeral bier and back into his mother’s arms (Luke 7:14-15).
For the rest of us, “Do not weep” (or worse, “Stop crying!”) is on a definite list of things not to say to someone in crisis.
So what do we say? What do we do?
Well, I’m a Lutheran preacher, so of course I’m heading back into this story to try and find some wisdom.
First, I notice that when Jesus first sees the woman, he is “moved by compassion.” In the original Greek, the word for “compassion” more literally means “to be moved in one’s bowels.” That sounds a little foreign to us, but the ancient word captures the idea we still have in our culture: of being moved by what’s going on in someone else’s life. Of feeling like something is reaching inside of us, taking hold, and pulling. In modern terms: seeing this woman in grief tugged on Jesus’s heartstrings. And Jesus followed that tug, let himself be moved to action, and was the savior of the world for this woman.
Again — we are not little saviors of the world. We don’t have the power to raise the dead with a word, or even to fix much simpler problems for those we love.
But, as Luther said, we are called to be “little Christs” to our neighbors. So when we notice someone in pain, and they tug on our heartstrings, we can do the Christlike thing of following that tug and doing something.
We are not saviors of the world, but God has given us our own vocations, our own gifts for comfort and healing. So the “something” that we do rises from our own skill set.
We might offer a hug or bring over a casserole.
We might ask, “How can I pray for you?”
We might take up a collection or write a poem or offer to watch the kids.
These acts look miniscule in comparison to Jesus’ power — but they do matter. We know that from our own times of crisis. The gift of a donut in a hospital elevator can change the tone of the day. Having 30 minutes alone in a bathtub can give us the rest we need to keep going later.
Plus: we are not alone in being compassionate. When the whole community seeks to help, our combined offerings become life-changing for a person in need.
After the raising of the dead man, the whole crowd responds: “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” The word about Jesus starts spreading. His one act of compassion for one individual family filled the whole countryside with hope.
Maybe our compassionate responses can bring that same hope to our community.
O Christ, your heart, compassionate, bore every human pain.
Its beating was the pulse of God; its breadth, God’s vast domain.
The heart of God, the heart of Christ, combined in perfect rhyme
To write God’s love in human deeds, eternity in time.
As once you welcomed the cast down and healed the sick, the blind,
So may all bruised and broken lives through us your help still find.
Lord, join our hearts with those who weep that none may weep alone,
And help us bear another’s pain as though it were our own.
Hymn: “O Christ, Your Heart, Compassionate” by Herman G. Stuempfle Jr.
Text copyright 2000 GIA Publications Inc. Used with permission under OneLicense.net A-702845
Sept. 15, 2021
P.S. If you’re a faculty or staff member interested in talking more about how we can offer comfort to others, be sure to check out the “Lunch and Learn” opportunity