The Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 5-6, 2010
Text: Luke 7:11-17
Dear Friends in Christ,
In America we tend to think in emotional terms. And in fact, for many, the reality is irrelevant so long as you felt the right thing. It doesn’t matter if the charity we gave to actually does what it says, it felt good to give. This allows groups like the Susan G. Kommen Foundation to survive. It parades itself as a women’s cancer organization when it is in fact a front for the radical pro abortion group Planned Parenthood. In fact many in our society see no relevance to the fact that Planned Parenthood was formed specifically to provide abortion services to Black, Hispanic and Catholic women. Their intentions are good, after all they just want to help women. So for Americans compassion is an emotion. It doesn’t matter if it leads to action or effective action. All that matters is that we feel the right thing. All that matters is that we feel sorry for others and that the feeling is salved in some way. That was in fact the real purpose of our social welfare system. It wasn’t intended to actually help people. It was intended give middle class tax payers the warm fuzzies. Oh, our tax dollars are helping people. Never mind that no one really, in the long run, is helped.
Alright, now its time to stop thinking like stupid Americans, put on our Biblical glasses and start to think the way the Bible thinks. Why is that important? Because the Bible is God’s Word. It reveals to us who God is, what God has done and still does, and what God’s will or law is for us. If we are thinking Biblically, we will be thinking in a radically different way than the world thinks. And many things that the world thinks are just grand, will be totally unacceptable.
Now, we come to a place called Nain. We don’t know exactly where Nain is. It is village somewhere in central Galilee. It’s not far from Capernaum. But then Galilee is a not a very big place - probably smaller than say a typical county in the U.S. Now it is not shocking that we don’t know where Nain was. There were many villages in Galilee over the centuries. Many times archeologists dig up a site and cannot identify it. And many more sites have never been uncovered. Further, as far was we know, there was nothing special about Nain. It was just this little place, like many others. You could think of many of our small villages in northern Wisconsin. There’s a lake, a bait shop in the gas station, a bar and few houses. They all are kind of the same. Nain was, for its time, kind of like that.
Jesus comes to Nain. He sees a funeral procession. Nothing unusual there. People die everywhere. Nor is it odd that it was a young man, probably in his early teens. (They were considered an adult at twelve.) Even today, many young people die. In those days, without modern medicine and such, life was often very short. It is very unlikely that Jesus raised every dead person He encountered. But what do we read? This was a widow’s only son. Now let me paint a word picture for you. I’m going to fill in some details that the Bible doesn’t tell us. But this is likely what Jesus encountered. Let’s just say the boy was thirteen. He was the oldest child. His mother is in her middle twenties, still quite young herself - still attractive, desirable. But widows are seen as subhuman in that culture. She would never attract another husband. She has some younger children - daughters. They must be fed and clothed. Her son inherited his father’s property, a house and a small field, a few chickens, and perhaps a goat or two for milk. It wasn’t much, but they had food and clothing. But with the death of her son, this woman and her daughters would be homeless and destitute. Another male relative would take ownership of all that she had. There were no jobs for women in that culture - at least no dignified ones. Most such women ended up prostitutes. It was their only means of support. This was wrong. Her family and neighbors had an obligation before God to support her in honor and dignity. But most would ignore God’s command. Most would see her as a helpless victim to be used as they willed. She was a widow. She was no longer human.
Christ saw this situation and He had compassion. But the compassion of Christ, in fact the whole idea of compassion in the Scriptures is not an emotion. Compassion is a type of act. It is something that is done out an understanding of the need of another. Compassion here is complex as well. Compassion on the women? Yes, certainly. On her daughters, if she had any? Yes. What about on the village as a whole? How was Christ being compassionate to them? He was removing their opportunity to fall into great sin with this woman. The men of the village would not be tempted to use her as the object of their lusts. They would not sin against her by failing to support her. Christ understanding all this, raised the young man from the dead and returned him to his mother. It is important to note that Jesus acted effectively to meet a need that He saw in front Him. It wasn’t enough to have said that He tried to help. It was not enough for Him to say that He felt her pain. Compassion, in the Bible, equals seeing a problem and fixing it.
We can’t do what Jesus did. We can’t raise people from the dead. But we can have compassion. We can see the need of another and fix it. Now it is not our vocation to fix all the problems in the world. Nor can we help those who will not allow themselves to be helped. It think of an alcohol abuser who refuses to work because then can’t be drinking. This is beyond our power to fix. For this there is only prayer. We pray for them. Nor does throwing money at a problem automatically help. Sometimes money is needed, but compassion money must be spent with great wisdom. It is easy to harm by throwing money at a problem. But when we see someone in need, and it is within our power to help, then we are to help.
Why don’t we help, as we should. Well the simple answer is sin. We are sinners. But that kind of generic answer isn’t really very helpful. What sin does is it makes the self the king of the universe. The universe exists to serve me. Why should I help someone else? What is in it for me? But didn’t that old Adam, that old man of sin die, when I was baptized. Well, he was drowned, but the old bugger is a real good swimmer and somehow seems to keep popping back up to the surface. Thus Luther talks of baptism daily drowning the old man by means of contrition and repentance. So it is a constant battle. We still tend to be focused upon ourselves and our own desires. As Christians we are in a constant battle over this. Am I the center of the universe or is Christ the center of the universe? Thus we are also in constant need of the Cross of Christ. Why should we fight if we have lost? Yes, we have lost this battle with our self. But Christ wins it. He sees our need and He does something about it. He puts in place an effective cure. He pays for our sins and gives us forgiveness as a free gift. That is what compassion really is.