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The Widow of Nain

13 Dec
galilee-nain

from Google Images

After he healed the centurion’s servant at some distance from where the young man lay dying (Luke 7:2, 8-10), Jesus went to the town of Nain with his disciples, and a large crowd of people followed him (Luke 7:11). Nain was about 25 miles southwest of Capernaum and about 6 miles southeast of Nazareth. In fact, Nain was easily visible from the hill upon which Nazareth was built, if one looked across its southern valley. As he approached the city gates of Nain, Jesus saw a funeral was taking place. A young man, the only son of a widow, was being carried out of the city (Luke 7:12, 14). As Jesus looked upon the woman who walked ahead of the bier, he had compassion on her and told her not to cry (Luke 7:13). Then Jesus touched the bier and stopped the funeral from proceeding. Having done this, he spoke to the dead young man, command him to arise, and Jesus delivered him to his mother (Luke 7:14-15).

If we stop and consider this Scripture for a moment, several questions come to mind. For example, since Nazareth is only a few miles from Nain, might Jesus have known this woman? I believe it is possible that Jesus already knew the widow of Nain, but simply thinking something might be true doesn’t make is so. Nevertheless, we are able to say that the context allows that Jesus may have known her. Another consideration might be: if Jesus was on his way to Capernaum from Cana of Galilee, why would he retrace his steps to go to Nain (cf. John 4:46; Matthew 8:5; Luke 7:11)? After all, Capernaum had become the base or headquarters of Jesus’ ministry. Why didn’t he continue to Capernaum, since he would have gone there eventually anyway? It seems that a comparison of Luke 7:2-11 and John 4:46-47 reveals Jesus must have had some other business at hand to account for his retracing his steps back toward Cana and eventually to Nain, and the centurion’s request may have interrupted that business.

The context implies that Jesus knew that the widow’s son was dying sometime on his journey to Capernaum to heal the nobleman’s son (cf. John 4:46). While it may be true that the Father revealed this to Jesus (cf. John 11:11-14), it may be equally true that the widow had sent for Jesus, and her messengers found him on his way to Capernaum (cf. John 11:1, 3).

If we consider the crowd that followed the widow in the funeral procession (Luke 7:12), we have to wonder if this particular widow was a woman of some wealth and influence at Nain. While it is possible she was poor, and the crowd can be defined has her friends and neighbors, the text doesn’t make this claim. The large crowd that Luke points to may indicate she was a wealthy woman. Of course, this is only a possibility, but, if it were true, could this woman be mentioned in Luke 8:2-3 as one of Jesus supporters? If so, Luke may be showing in Luke 7 how the women in Luke 8:2-3 were touched by Jesus and became his supporters. In such a case, the widow of Nain would have been Susanna.

I realize there are a lot of possibilities under consideration in this study, but when we have enough of them working together, a probability arises. Then the possibility is ‘more likely’ to be true. With this in mind, if we consider Jesus’ words “He delivered him to his mother” it is striking that we find this same phrase used in 1Kings 17:23. The same words Luke uses of Jesus in Luke 7:15 were used to describe what the prophet, Elijah, did when he raised the only son of a gentile widow in 1Kings 17:23. Thus, Luke connects Jesus and the widow of Nain with Elijah and the widow of Zarephath (1Kings 17:9-24).[1]

It may also be interesting to understand that the woman of Zarephath (1King 17:10) supported Elijah, the prophet out of her own substance.(1Kings 17:13-14), just as Luke claims Susanna had done (cf. Luke 8:2-3). Moreover, when the son of the widow of Zarephath died, his mother asked if Elijah had come to remember her sin (1Kings 17:17-18), and Luke implies that Susanna was a sinner whom Jesus had healed (Luke 8:2-3). If indeed the widow of Nain is Susanna of Luke 8:3, and she had once been demonized and healed by Jesus, she may have also wondered if the Prophet, Jesus, had come to remember her sin, as her eyes met those of Jesus just outside the gates of Nain (cf. Luke 7:13).

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[1] Luke shows us, through Jesus’ calling the sins of the Pharisees and rabbis into consideration, that wealthy widows often supported religious teachers (cf. Luke 20:47), but Jesus implies the Pharisees and rabbis squandered the widow’s living and left them destitute.

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Posted by on December 13, 2016 in Gospel of Luke

 

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