In the 1964 Walt Disney film, Mary Poppins was “practically perfect in every way.” To describe Jesus, we must remove the word practically from that description, for he is perfect in every way (i.e., flawless, mature, and complete). A most obvious evidence of Jesus’ perfection is his compassion. His heart just goes out to people.
After Jesus concluded his famous Sermon on the Mount, he encountered a Roman soldier. The centurion wanted Jesus to heal his servant. Jesus granted the soldier’s request. The centurion stood in stark contrast to the woman in our text. He was a Roman, and she was a Jewess. He was a male, and she was a female. He was the backbone of the Roman army (i.e., important), and she was destitute and disenfranchised. But she needed Jesus’ compassion.
Compassion to the Needy (Luke 7:11-17)
Luke used the loose temporal phrase soon afterward to connect this narrative with the previous one. Jesus was entering the Galilean town of Nain. This small city was in a lush valley southeast of Nazareth and just south of Mount Tabor. Two large crowds are mentioned in the text—one with Jesus and one with this woman.
As Jesus entered the town, a funeral procession was leaving it. A woman’s only (the same word in John 3:16 for “only begotten”) son was being carried out. The mother most likely was leading the procession, for that was the custom in Jesus’ day. Luke implied much by adding, and she was a widow. This “silent one” (the meaning of widow in the Old Testament) had lost not only her husband but now her only begotten son as well. Her security, protection, and resources were gone. The large crowd accompanying her indicated many people were touched by her plight.
When Jesus saw her, his heart went out to her (felt compassion for her). Her pain was now in Jesus’ heart. He told her, “Stop crying” (i.e., the sense in Greek). He knew what he would do (just as when he raised Jairus’s daughter and Lazarus). He touched the bier (somewhat like a casket). This made Jesus unclean, but he immediately destroyed the evidence of uncleanness by raising the young man from the dead. People must have been shocked.
Jesus actually spoke to the dead man (cf. John 5:25), and the man sat up. The man also began to talk—he probably had lots to say. In a touching phrase, Luke said that Jesus gave him back to his mother. What a gift! God had become her husband (Isaiah 54:5), but God gave her boy back to her. No wonder everyone was filled with awe and praised God. With the people’s reservoir of Old Testament understanding, they thought a prophet had arisen (Elijah? cf. 1 Kings 17:17-24; or Elisha? cf. 2 Kings 4:8-37). The news (word, “logos”) about this spread like wildfire.
Compassion to the Distraught (Luke 7:18-23)
Social media didn’t yet exist, but news of this resurrection spread quickly—even 90 miles to the south. John the Baptist was incarcerated in Machaerus (east of the Dead Sea). His disciples (i.e., John’s followers) told the imprisoned prophet about Jesus’ miracles.
John dispatched two of his followers to question Jesus. “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” In other words, “Are you the Messiah?” What could possibly generate such a question? Was John discouraged or depressed? Possibly—his counterpart in the Old Testament got that way (1 Kings 19:1-9). Prison can tear away at one’s tenacity. Was he ignorant? Did he just want to know what Jesus was doing? Possibly, for he had no TV in his cell. Or was he distraught? He had predicted a fiery Messiah who would take his winnowing fork and clean the threshing floor (Matthew 3:11-12). Instead, John was told this Messiah was healing everyone. John was hoping for Dwayne Johnson and instead got Fred Rogers.
John knew beyond a shadow of doubt that Jesus was the Messiah (John 1:32-34). But Jesus was bringing in the kingdom differently than John had perceived. When John’s disciples asked Jesus the question of his messiahship, Jesus offered up his miracles as proof he was the Messiah. Miracles were acts of war against Satan. Miracles were the fiery judgment on the devil to reclaim God’s world. It sounded like Isaiah 35:1-10 to the biblically informed. Jesus congratulated (blessed) anyone who would not stumble over his ministry. Jesus clearly was not mad at John—the following context attests to that (Luke 7:24-35). The Messiah just shows compassion differently than one might think.