Saturday, 4 June 2016

A Widow's Only Son

Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”
Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country. (John 7:11-17)
She's been driven beyond despair. A widow. A woman with just one son. The son who should have been her provider, according to their society. And that son is dead. And this should not be.

I remember an old relative's despair at her son's funeral. Her son died at the age of 73 - so what people in other societies, at other times, would consider a truly ripe old age. But, even with her understanding of what was happening dulled by the dementia that would carry her away a couple of years later, she knew she had lost her son. And this should not be.

And then we're not talking about a world with social security and a decent pension. The widows' son was  her pension. He would have cared for her, in the absence of his father. But now that's gone. She has no support. If she has daughters, that might make the situation worse rather than better. Where's the dowry coming from, if the son is not there to support them all?

So she's beyond words of consolation. Beyond pious exhortations about another world - a happier place where he is now. She's broken, and maybe facing utter destitution.

And Jesus's heart goes out to her. This should not be.

Monday is D-Day. And I remember an old man - as I knew him, thirty years ago. He had been nearly forty when he crossed the Channel that day in 1944. He'd left three sons behind - and another child on the way. And he and his colleagues attacked Sword Beach and left colleagues behind - young men - and his own wife and sons would have been so terrified for him, as he went out to fight in the liberation of Europe. And though he got home alive and lived to a ripe old age, yet so many men - so much younger than him - died on both sides during those terrible weeks of the Battle of Normandy. So many wives and girlfriends, mothers and fathers mourning the young men who never went home - to England, Canada, America, Germany, Poland.

And this should not be.

We can play around with why Jesus only raised a few, but not others. Why he healed some, but not always. But that was the nature of Jesus's incarnation. It was limited, It was short in time - on this planet, at any rate. It was about a certain impact, in a certain time, to a certain number of - mostly - a certain race. And at just the right time, in just the right place, to just the right people, it had an impulse that carried a belief in Jesus across the world.

The raising of the widow's son is just a glimpse of God's heart, and God's power. Jesus sees one young man - at one time - one grieving mother - as his own soon would be - and his heart goes out. And he brings the lad back to life.

It's limited, it's temporary. It is, in fact, a symbol of what we can do.

Nothing we do today will last forever on this world. We can give time and effort and money to help other people - but these efforts will not last. We can fight for great causes. But the causes will not last. The people fighting for whether we should leave or not the European Union - well, the EU won't last. Nothing on this fragile world will last.

But every time we do a good thing in this beautiful, fragile, brittle world, we are standing up for a longer vision. We make changes because, when we look at the evils and sadnesses of this world, we know they should not be. We know there's something wrong. and we do what we can to put it right - even though we know that nothing we do will last. But it's an act of defiance. And it's an act of faith that, though we are only putting sticking plasters on today, something eternal is coming.

And so Jesus raises the widow's son. It's only temporary. The lad will die again. It's only in one place, and at one time. But I believe he raises the young man because God believes these things should not be either.

The problem of why the world is as it is, if God is as we believe God to be, is an endless source of trouble for Christians. If God is good, and almighty, then why is the world a mixed bag at best, with death at the end?

But I cling onto my belief that this world is not as it should be - and that I hold this belief because it's actually written into my very being. Written, in fact, into a world that longs for its own freedom. That the world should not be like this, and will not always be like this. That one day, the dead will be raised and they will not die again. That God will live with his people, and God will not return to heaven. That widows and widowers will no longer weep and those that have mourned will be comforted, and that God will wipe away every tear from their eye. When the victory that Jesus promised in the raising of the widows' son, and achieved in the garden on Easter Sunday, becomes the victory that streams out into all creation, and we know that that victory is forever, and our lives in him are eternal, and the little victories we win each day are wrapped up into the eternal victory that Jesus has won, on his Cross and from the tomb,

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