Up until a few weeks ago we had an inflatable dinghy hanging in the garage. My children discovered that by sitting on the bottom, holding onto the handles they could use it as a swing. Despite me telling them not to do it – as they could easily rip the boat and render it useless -the inevitable happened. My son came to me with tears in his eyes, knowing he’d been disobedient and the dinghy would never take to water again. He was distraught. I was angry, but he was only having a bit of fun, and had learnt his lesson. So, lovingly, I told him not to get upset – "don’t cry" – but to listen to me in the future!
It’s all very well telling people not to cry; that crying does no good. However, unless we’ve been there – experienced the sadness that they experience, share their feelings, we can’t tell them not to cry. We can sympathise, but we can only guess at the suffering felt. An inflatable boat is one thing, but what about those who line the street in Wooten Basset to welcome home the bodies of soldiers killed in Afghanistan – we can’t know the sorrow of their parents or their wives.
Likewise, unless you’ve lost a child – then you can’t really know the heartache of the widows in the Bible readings either. Both women had not only lost someone they loved; they had lost their only provider and protector. In the Gospel we read: "He was his mother’s only son, and she was just a widow." She had no recourse to any social security and no family left to provide for her needs. Neither did the widow of Zarephath. She blames the prophet and her sins for her son’s death. Crying out she says: "Man of God, why did you do this to me? Did you come here to remind God of my sins and so cause my son’s death?"
Her dreams are shattered. She is devastated. She thought God was passing judgement on her. On the other hand the widow in the Gospel doesn’t even speak. She’s crying so much that we’re told that "the Lord saw her; he had compassion for her and said to her, "Don’t cry." Both mothers experience God’s grace. It’s not about judgement, but compassion. And God’s compassion is more than sympathy. Through Elijah it’s a picture of calmness. He asks the widow to give her son to him. Then he takes the boy to his room and places him on his bed. He humbled himself and stretched his own body on top of the body of this dead child. He’s defiled himself – as Jesus does so too by willingly touching the coffin. This was something taboo in Jewish culture. He and Elijah were unclean and were now outsiders like the poor widows.
Elijah asks God to do something that had never been done before: "O Lord, raise this child to life!" There is absolutely no record of any dead person ever being brought back to life before this day. It’s an amazing prayer for the need of this one woman. In the Gospel, as Jesus is God, He brings the son back to life with a simple command: "Young man, I say to you, rise!" and the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Likewise Elijah took the boy back downstairs to his mother and said to her, "Look your son is alive!" Imagine the joy that must have filled that house when God worked this miracle for Elijah and eliminated the problem by His power. In the Gospel text, tears also turned to joy as the mourners were filled with reverence and praised God: "A great prophet has appeared among us…God has come to save his people!"
Of course Jesus is far greater than Elijah and His preaching in the Synagogue sets the tone for His ministry as He quotes the text from Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has chosen me to bring good news to the poor." And this raising of the widow’s son shows us the way in which the outsider the disadvantaged and the heartbroken are favoured by Jesus. These passages illustrate that our Saviour doesn’t restrain His compassion because we forget to follow the correct rituals, or even when we blame Him and don’t say the right words. There isn’t a set pattern in which to receive His help. As Jesus looked upon this woman He saw that all her hope had gone and also that she was being judged by her own society. He told her not to cry because He was about to turn her tears into a testimony.
Jesus continues to be moved by the hurts and sorrows of His people. Indeed, God has looked favourably on us by giving us new life in Him. Like the widow in the story, if we’ve been touched by disappointment, anxiety or even by great tragedy in our lives – Jesus shows us His compassion and comes to us in our spiritual poverty telling us not to cry. Like the spectators to the event, we see the suffering of the exploited and the oppressed and are moved by our Lord’s example of unity with the poor and the downtrodden. A sense of compassion can help us pray more effectively too. Moreover, we’re inspired to offer practical help and to continue to engage in political debate for peace and justice in the world.
Friends where does this message find you this morning? Are you facing emotional, financial, physical or spiritual situations that seem impossible to you? Have you given enough thought to where you are going to spend eternity? Perhaps in the past the death of someone you loved caused you at least to examine what you thought was important in life. Whatever it is that you’re facing today, I challenge you to bring it before the Lord and trust Him to see you through it. Just like the widow placed the burden of her dead son in the arms of Elijah, I challenge you to place your burden this morning into the outstretched arms of Jesus. He is there reaching out with creative power and compassionate love – bringing good news for the poor – whatever that may mean.
Even when we cannot see Him or even feel His presence at work in our lives -with Christ there is ALWAYS hope.