Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine
The opening of the story is the description of a tragedy: "He went to a town called Nain with his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother and she was a widow." The dynamic of this sentence is to build the tragedy. Everyone in Luke's audience knew its dimensions. The death of a widow's only son means that her only source of livelihood, of food, of care, of clothes, of a home, is gone. His death meant her abject poverty and premature death.
The story of Naomi in Ruth is a memory of what is associated with the death of sons. After losing both her husband and her two sons, Naomi laments, "Call me no longer Naomi (that is, pleasant), call me Mara (that is, bitter). Also, the story of the widow of Zarephath (I Kings 17:8-16) who announces, "I'm going to make cake and eat it and die. "Widows and orphans were a particular concern of the prophets. Jesus stands in that prophetic tradition.
The beginning of Luke's story about what happened in Nain paints the picture of an immense personal tragedy. Jesus responds with compassion. The Greek word for his response is one of the great expressive words in the Gospels. This word is used in Markin Jesus' response to the leper who comes up and falls at his feet and says, "Lord, if you want to, you can make me clean." Jesus splagnizod for the man: he had compassion on him. The literal meaning of this word is for your bowels to turn over. Splagnizo is the description of the movement in your body of compassion for someone who is suffering. Jesus splagnizod for the woman, he had compassion on her. His bowels turned over for her because he knew what she was going through and what this meant for her.
You can get the feeling of this word by noticing the other places where Luke uses it. It's used in two parables of Jesus. The first is the parable of the good Samaritan where the priests and the Levites see the man on the road and pass by on the other side. But the Samaritan saw him, had compassion on him, and went over and bound up his wounds.
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