CLB Commentary – Dr. Gaylan Mathiesen
Picture the scene—it’s a hot day in northern Galilee, the sun glaring overhead as a large funeral procession gathers outside the home of a now doubly-grieved widow. As per the custom, professional mourners are also there to accompany the procession, so the mother will not have to feel conspicuous when she pours out her grief over the loss of her only son. They will wend their way through the streets of the town, and out through the gates, probably to a hillside where the graves might be in caves. The widow’s husband is probably also buried there, his bones now put in a box and set on a shelf to make room for her son. (N.T. Wright, Luke for Everyone, Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, p. 83.)
As the processional proceeds to the grave site, the crowd meets up with another band of travelers: they encounter a man leading what appears to be a small cluster of followers, followed yet by another large crowd. Who could this man be? He seems important. Seeing the widow and the coffin, and seemingly filled with compassion for her, he comes up to the mourners and says “Don’t cry.” And then to everyone’s astonishment, the stranger walks over to the coffin and touches it. (For a Jew, contact with corpse rendered one unclean.) And then an even more shocking thing happens: this stranger speaks a command to the corpse of the widow’s dead son, “Young man, I say to you get up!” and he does! But not only does he get up, he starts to speak, and returns to his mother, alive! Everyone is watching in shock and amazement—they have just witnessed something akin to what Elijah and Elisha did—it’s a miracle (1 Kgs. 17:17-24; 2 Kgs. 4:18-37)! They conclude, “God has visited His people!” Not in the sense of dropping in for a cup coffee, but like when He parted the waters for the Israelites as they left Egypt, or as when Elijah called down fire from heaven. Jesus has just carried out an act that establishes Him as a true prophet of God. The people of Israel had not heard God speak for hundreds of years, but here they have just seen His power, raising the dead again!
As we read the story of this miraculous healing (one of three in Luke’s gospel), one might ask where is faith evident here? It seems that the only person exercising faith in this story is Jesus. No one was expecting Jesus or seeking Him out. In fact, rather than an emphasis on human faith in God, what we see instead is the Prophet Jesus pouring out gracious and divine compassion toward the suffering. The Greek word translated as “compassion” [NIV] in verse 13 is ἐσπλαγχνίσθη, from σπλαγχνίζομαι, a term referring to the “inner parts” or “in the Hebraic sense as the seat of the affections.” (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel, Mpls: Augsburg Publishing House,1946, p. 398.) Jesus took into Himself their deepest agony, walked right into the center of it all, stretched out His hand and turned everything around, transforming their mourning into celebration and dancing.
Now, what if we bring this ancient but timeless story into our present? How is life different for you with Jesus in it? Notice also how Luke has taken these two healing miracles of chapter 6 and displayed them against the backdrop of the commands of the sermon that Jesus preached earlier in the chapter. In doing so, he shows us how life looks on the ground, in real life. And Luke again prompts his readers to ask the all-important question: who is this man, Jesus? And what do these two incidents tell us about His work and His mission here on earth? (N.T. Wright, p. 84.)