Jesus and his disciples journeyed to the small Galilean town of Nain. There, they came upon a funeral procession. A man who had died was being carried out of the town in order to be buried. Accompanying the body was a large crowd, including the mother of the man who had died. Luke adds that this woman was a widow and that the dead man was her only son. Thus, we can only imagine the extreme grief felt by this poor woman.
In verse 13, we read that when Jesus saw her "he had compassion for her" (ESV). The Greek verb translated here as "had compassion" is a striking one. It's also difficult to say. The dictionary form is splagchnizomai, and is pronounced splank-niz-o-mai. This verb is derived from the noun splagchna, pronounced splank-na, which means "internal organs, innards, or bowels." It refers to what we call "the guts." When we talk about deep feelings, we locate them in the heart. Speakers of ancient Greek, however, placed them in the guts.
Thus, in saying that Jesus had "gutsy compassion" for the grieving widow, I don't mean that his compassion was bold so much as profoundly felt. Jesus did not see the mother of the dead man as a project or as someone that needed to be fixed. He didn't look upon the situation at Nain primarily as an opportunity to demonstrate the power of God's kingdom even over death. Rather, he felt deeply moved by the pain of the woman. He acted out of what we would call heartfelt compassion.
Of course, as we read this story, we rightly see in the raising of the dead man a precursor of things to come. We know that the same power that raised the widow's son will, in time, raise Jesus from the dead into a whole new dimension of living. We see in this story evidence of the life-giving, world-transforming power of the kingdom of God.
This is all true. But, today, I am especially touched by the compassion of Jesus, by his willingness to feel the pain of a grieving mother and to act out of that compassion. I am reminded that, as the Lord looks upon me and my struggles, he feels a similar compassion toward me. What an encouragement that is! Moreover, I am reminded to open my heart to others, to risk feeling their heartache, so that I might reach out to them with the love and power of God.
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