Get your copy of “Messiah: Biblical Retellings” here, or download a free chapter here. (Published under my pen name, C.A. Gray)
Today’s podcast is a meditation on and reimagining of Jesus’ first time raising the dead, from Luke 7:11-25.
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This is my retelling, but the podcast includes the original text and a discussion as well.
The whole thing seemed so surreal, as she walked through the streets of Nain behind the bier carrying her son. Her only son. Only a few short years ago, it had been her husband. Now, her townspeople surrounded her in mourning, in torn garments and wailing loudly to comfort her with shared grief. But how could anyone truly share her grief?
She had nothing. Not only was she left with the devastating loss of the two people dearest to her in the world, but she was also destitute. As a widow, she had been dependent upon her eldest son, only a teenager himself, for support. Now, she was entirely at the mercy of her fellow Jews, and of God the Father.
As she walked, she rehearsed the promises she still had to cling to, though memories of her son’s last moments intruded on her thoughts with convulsions of weeping. God said in the Psalms through David that He is the ‘Father of the fatherless and protector of widows,’ and that he ‘upholds the widow and the fatherless,’ she told herself. Through Jeremiah, He said, ‘Let your widows trust in me.’ The Mosaic law commands reapers to leave the edges of the fields for the fatherless and widows to glean. She tried to picture herself among those gleaning the edges of the fields, and another lump rose to her throat. She was grateful that God had given landowners this command for those who could not otherwise support themselves—and yet she had always pitied those reduced to this. Now she would be among them. The Law prevents anyone taking my garments in pledge, should I find myself indebted. King Solomon wrote that He will ‘maintain the widow’s boundaries,’ so my land is secure. Isaiah writes that He will ‘plead the widow’s cause’…
As she rehearsed these promises in her mind, weeping all the while, she saw a commotion up ahead. A group of men had come to the city gates, just as their funeral procession was leaving it. By the looks of them, it was a rabbi and his disciples. Then she looked again at the face of the man in the center, even as he moved toward her with a look of compassion.
Could this be the one they’re all talking about? she wondered. Could this be Jesus of Nazareth?
“Do not weep,” the man said to her. And, wonder of wonders, she obeyed. Because despite all the devastation that had happened to her, this was Jesus. She’d heard the stories. He was a miracle worker! She’d never heard of him raising the dead before like Elisha did over eight centuries earlier in Shunem, just over the hill from where they were now—but if Elisha could do it, and this Jesus was who he was rumored to be, then surely… surely…
She was almost afraid to hope. But she did hope, all the same.
The widow watched as Jesus turned away from her, and walked toward the bier bearing her son’s body. It lay there without a casket, as the widow could not afford one. His stiff, cold body was there for all to see, his skin like wax. The bearers had stopped too, watching to see what Jesus would do. And to everyone’s astonishment, Jesus lay his hand on her son’s body. The rabbi touched a dead body, deliberately, making him ceremonially unclean! But just as the ripples of shock spread through the crowd at this, Jesus spoke.
“Young man, I say to you, arise.”
The widow did not breathe, even as her son… did! He sucked in a ragged gasp at first, stirred, blinked, and sat up. The startled bearers put the bier down, even as the boy’s feet sought the ground. She began to cry afresh, but this time with joy!
“Mother?” he croaked. His voice was thick with disuse, and he looked around, disoriented. He looked at Jesus first, who smiled at him gently. The boy smiled back, and though his mother clung to him and wept, he couldn’t seem to take his eyes off of Jesus.
The whispers of the crowd began to reach the widow’s ears, their voices filled with awe and terror. “A great prophet has arisen among us!” they were saying. “God has visited his people!”
Jesus turned to the widow. “Woman, receive your son.”
She gasped out her thanks, releasing her son long enough to fall at his feet. Jesus remained for a moment with his disciples. At last, Jesus and his followers moved on, though the funeral procession remained stopped in its tracks, their fear giving way to joy. Those who had been mourners now surrounded mother and son, eager to hear about the son’s experience.
“I was in Abraham’s bosom!” he said to the many awe-filled questions. “Yes, yes, it was as beautiful as they say. It was up to me whether or not to come back, and I would have liked to stay, but I knew I had to come back and take care of my mother.” He lay a hand on hers, no longer cold, but warm with life and vitality. Then his eyes tracked to the receding figure of Jesus. Everyone else turned to follow his gaze. “I have met the Master,” he whispered.
“Master of what?” the widow choked out, though she already knew the answer.
“Of all,” the boy replied simply.