Luke 7:11-17 Mourning Into Joy
Luke brings us a story today that is unique to his gospel account. This one is very touching and I want to tell it from the mother’s perspective. I want to name our mother Tabitha and the son John Paul.
John Paul is a local farmer. He took over the family farm when his father passed away seven years ago. It hasn’t been easy but he has managed to keep himself and his mother fed through hard labor every day. Both John Paul and his mother live in the same home John Paul was born in. It is a modest little home on the edge of Nain. John Paul and Tabitha are very loving and giving people. They don’t have much but what they do have they freely share with those in need. They have many friends, especially among other faithful synagogue attendees.
Wednesday morning dawned clear and crisp. It is almost time for the harvest. The crops are modest this year and every cent they bring in will be used to pay the accounts at the local market and lay in needed supplies for next year’s crops. Tabitha got up with the chickens, as usual, and is busy making John Paul his morning meal before he begins today’s business. Today he will be sharpening the sickles, trimming the donkey’s hooves, and checking the grain for any signs of blight.
John Paul quickly eats, kisses his mother good-bye and heads out to work. This day is like so many others; mother working around the home and John Paul in the field. Tabitha’s arthritis keeps her from helping in the field like she used to. She used to be a frequent helper to her husband and son but her hands and feet are now gnarled and twisted from years of hard work. She is dependent on John Paul to care for the farm.
Tabitha is preparing the evening meal when she suddenly stops. Tabitha senses something is wrong. She doesn’t know what it is or how she knows it, but she is certain John Paul is in danger. At first it is just a small feeling of unease, but it quickly grows into an unshakable overwhelming need to locate her son. Tabitha quickly drops what she is doing and goes in search of John Paul. This is a slow and painful process as her feet make walking difficult, and running impossible.
Tabitha scans the field for the familiar form of her son but she can’t see him. She then moves to the workshop. When she can’t locate him there she hurries as best as she can to the animal stalls. As she gets closer she hears one of the donkeys stamping loudly in his pen and sees what looks like a large bundle near the corner. She is strangely drawn to the bundle. Once she reaches the pen she recognizes the cloth in that bundle as belonging to John Paul. The distraught donkey is pacing around the pen and making it unsafe for Tabitha to enter for a closer look. She quickly opens the gate and waits for the donkey to bolt from his pen.
As soon as the donkey fled the pen Tabitha hurries to examine the bundle. It is John Paul! He is not moving and doesn’t respond to Tabitha’s efforts to rouse him. It takes all her strength to roll John Paul onto his side and once Tabitha gets him to where she can see his face clearly, then she notices blood around the corners of his mouth. John Paul is barely breathing! Tabitha has to get help. There is no way she can get him into the house on her own. But how?
Tabitha looks up and sees the donkey standing on the other side of the gate. After being freed from his pen he calmed down. It would be impossible for Tabitha to hitch the donkey to the cart but maybe she could ride him to the neighbors. It’s too far for her to walk but she should be able to at least hold on that far.
Tabitha, speaking softly to the donkey, is able to bridal him and get a blanket across his back. She brings the donkey by the gate where she can stand on the stool to climb on his back. The donkey is being unusually cooperative with Tabitha and she is very grateful for this small blessing. Once mounted, Tabitha rides to her neighbor, Simon, home to the south.
Simon sees her coming and runs out to intercept her donkey. Simon helps Tabitha down and she quickly tells him of her urgent need. As fast as possible, Simon hitches up his cart and donkey and they drive back to Tabitha’s home.
When Simon enters the donkey’s pen where John Paul is laying he quickly assess the situation. John Paul is still breathing, but very shallowly. Very gently Simon lifts John Paul and carries him to the waiting cart. With great care they transport him to his home. Tabitha instructs Simon to lay John Paul on his bed before going to town for medical help.
While Simon is away getting the doctor Tabitha begins to clean John Paul’s face and search for injuries. She notices that his chest doesn’t look even and there is dark bruising to the left side of his body. There is nothing more she can do but wait and pray that he hangs on until help arrives. Tabitha weeps quietly while encouraging John Paul to hang on a little longer. “Help is coming son. Please stay with me a little longer.” John Paul’s breathing is getting even shallower.
By the time the doctor arrives John Paul has stopped breathing all together. Simon and the doctor find Tabitha sitting beside her son, lost to the world around her. The doctor confirms that John Paul is indeed dead. It appears that his chest was crushed by a blow from something. He died from damage caused by that blow.
The doctor turns his attention to Tabitha. He tells her that John Paul is gone. He knows this once strong woman personally. He was there when her son was born and when her husband became sick. He watched the light fade from her eyes as her husband’s illness stole his life. The woman he sees before him now appears extremely small and frail.
Simon’s wife Abigail arrived just after the doctor. She gently coaxes Tabitha from her chair and gets her into her own bed. Abigail promises to watch over Tabitha while the doctor and Simon tend to John Paul’s lifeless form.
Simon hurries to town to spread the word and to purchase spices for John Paul’s burial. Tabitha and John Paul have many friends who will want to know and to help in whatever way they can. This is indeed a sad day in Nain.
By the time Simon returns Tabitha has begun to rouse from her state of shock. She insists on helping prepare her only son for his burial. She warms the water for washing his body and prepares the spice mixture, adding her own tears to the recipe. A few of John Paul’s closest friends arrive in time to help wrap his body in the linen strips. Four of the men have agreed to sit with John Paul until morning when the mourners will arrive.
Tabitha, following Abigail’s insistence climbs into bed. Her heart is heavy. First the loss of her husband, now her only son is gone too. At first she is consumed simply by John Paul’s loss. Then she begins to contemplate her future without him. His loss means she is completely alone! How will she care for the farm? How is she going to bring in the crops? How will she care for the animals? How will she pay the bills? How will she survive without him? How will she even afford to pay for his funeral and burial?
Morning dawns bright and clear. It almost seems to be mocking Tabitha’s mood. The mourners arrive to begin the official grieving ritual. All of them are Tabitha and John Paul’s friends so it feels right that they should be weeping for him, rather than the professional mourners whose service has always felt phony to Tabitha. She is comforted somewhat by the presence of her friends but they still don’t do anything to erase her anxiety over her future.
Tabitha has always been a private person when it comes to sharing her own needs. She freely meets other’s needs but never voices her own. She is grateful for the assistance of her friends with John Paul’s final care but she will not impose on their generosity in regards to her own future. This she will somehow handle herself. Her first task in this new future is deciding where to bury her son. She wants to bury him with his father but she has no money to pay for this service, let alone for the bier to transport him there.
Simon approaches Tabitha and tells her, without her even sharing her concern, that he has arranged for the men who sat with John Paul to carry him and his bier to his final resting place beside his father. Tabitha weeps tears of joy now at Simon’s offer. She vows to pay him back though for his kindness to her and her son.
At the sixth hour it is time for the funeral procession to begin. John Paul’s bier is carried from Tabitha’s home, through Nain and out the other side. Friends join in the procession along the way and by the time they reach the gate it seems like half the city has joined to pay their last respects to John Paul.
Another crowd appears just outside the city gates. Tabitha is so caught up in her concerns that she pays little mind to this other group, until a Man from that crowd approaches her. He told her not to weep. That was a strange thing to say to her. Tears were certainly called for today. Next He stopped the bearers carrying John Paul’s bier and begins speaking to John Paul’s dead body. Tabitha watches Him through her haze of grief and anxiety, until John Paul sits up and starts talking! WHAT IS GOING ON!?! The bearers set the bier down on the ground and the Man brings Tabitha by the hand to where John Paul is sitting. Tabitha kneels down and the Man presents her son to her. Her risen son. Her completely whole son!
After the shock begins to fade Tabitha realizes Who the Man was. He was Jesus! She had heard reports about Him and all the miracles He was supposed to have done. She had wondered if the stories were true before. Now she knew they were. No one but a true prophet of God could have done such a miracle.
The entire funeral procession turned from weeping into praising in a matter of moments. Now shouts of joy and praise to God could be heard ringing through both crowds. Tabitha removed her mourning shall and wrapped it around John Paul as his bandages were torn to lose his feet and hands. Tabitha invited Jesus to eat with her and her newly restored family. After all, there was plenty of food, thanks to the generous gifts of her friends. A great party was held at the home of Tabitha and John Paul that night. Jesus even loosed Tabitha’s hands and feet from their bonds of arthritis.
I know I went long with our story but I want to point out a couple of things in our reading. First off, the widow in Luke’s account didn’t ask for Jesus help. He saw her; she didn’t see Him until He had already decided to act. Their friends didn’t even ask for Jesus’ help on her behalf. Second, Jesus knew her situation. He knew that she was a widow and that she was burying her only child. He knew what this meant to her future. He saw her current need as well as her future needs. Third, when He offered her comfort He also offered her a solution with it. He didn’t just say “Do not weep” and walk away. He stopped her reason for weeping in the first place. He spoke healing to her heart then healed her physical issue; her dead son. Finally, He gifted her with the fullness of His love and compassion. She didn’t have to earn the gift Jesus gave her that day. He gave it to her because He cared about her and wanted to help her. He didn’t do it to gain praise or to increase His fame. He did it out of love.
Jesus knows our situations far better than we even do. He knows our needs. He doesn’t always step in so clearly and deal with our needs like He did in our story, but He cares about our needs just the same. More times that you can probably count He has met those needs before we even asked Him to. Most of the time it is little needs that we don’t even think about that He meets. Like the need to breathe. Other times we are so devastated by the need that we don’t even have the presence of mind to ask. He still knows and He hears the heart crying out without words. The solutions He gives us are real. Sometimes they are small and other times they blow our socks off. We can trust Him to give us the best solution to our problem.
Father God, thank You for knowing my needs. You hold yesterday, today and tomorrow in Your hands. You know what is coming next and how best to handle it. You even know how to correct what I mess up. I can trust You to bring what I need when I need it, even if I don’t know what that is. I can trust You with my tomorrows. Thank You for never taking Your eyes off me, even when I take mine off You. Please forgive me for those times.