You good people of St Thomas More parish have never heard me preach about a vision that I had, or a personal revelation that I received from God, or anything like that. There are two reasons for this. The first reason is that televangelists say that sort of thing all the time (“God told me to give you the following message!”), and it really creeps me out. The second reason is that I have never received any visions or personal revelations or anything like that.
Until last week.
I’m really excited about the ... um, let’s call it an “insight” (that sounds less pathological) which I had about this gospel last week, and I’d love to share it with you. I hope it doesn’t creep you out.
Just outside the town of Nain, about a ten-minute walk from the city gate, there is a cemetery, even to this day. As Jesus and his large crowd of followers approached Nain, they met a large funeral procession coming out of the town, heading towards the cemetery, carrying the coffin of a young man, the only child of a widow.
This poor woman had already buried her husband there. This time her only child would join him. Imagine her sadness. She was left alone in a culture which even in good times was very unkind to women. Probably she had hocked her wedding band at the town’s pawn shop to guarantee a decent burial for her boy.
Luke’s gospel tells us that when Jesus saw her, “he was moved with pity for her.” At least that’s what this English translation says. But I looked it up last week, and that’s not really what Luke wrote. Check this out. Luke did not say that Jesus was merely “moved with pity.” Luke used the strongest word there is for the feeling that Jesus felt. He used the word splawch-NID-zo-mai (σπλαγχνίζομαι), which literally means to be shaken to your very bowels. Jesus saw this poor widow’s grief, and He was shaken to his very bowels. I don’t know why all the English translators translate this as “he was moved with pity.” They should use the common English phrase which perfectly translates splawch-NID-zo-mai. What do we all call it when something happens to us that shakes us to our very bowels? We call it a “gut-wrenching” experience. Gut wrenching! It’s perfect! It’s an exact translation!
See the difference? Jesus wasn’t merely moved with pity; Luke wrote that seeing this poor widow was a gut-wrenching experience for Jesus. Jesus was rocked to His core at the sight of this woman who was once a happy wife ... but was now a sorrowful widow; she was once the happy mother of an only child, a young man whose life was full of promise ... but now she was all alone, weeping inconsolably.
Notice the difference between the English translation we just heard and what Luke actually wrote.
This translation says, “When the Lord saw her, He was moved with pity for her, and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”
What Luke actually wrote was, “Seeing her was a gut-wrenching experience for Jesus, who said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”
Last week, when I realized this difference, I had an insight that rocked me to my core. I asked myself, why was seeing this poor widow such a gut-wrenching experience for Jesus? He had seen plenty of funerals before; why did this one shake him up so badly? Well, I thought, why do we empathize when we see somebody who is deeply grieving? It’s because their grief reminds us of the griefs we ourselves have suffered, and the memory becomes a kind of flashback that makes us relive our grief. Their grief becomes ours. That’s why it is said that sympathy is our heart going out to someone else, but empathy is their heart coming into us.
And that’s when I had my insight. My insight was this: Jesus saw that grieving widow, but instead of having a flashback of previous griefs like we do, maybe He had a flash forward, and for one brief terrible moment had a vision, and found himself looking down from the cross at Mary, his own sorrowful mother, weeping inconsolably, looking up at him; Mary, who likewise had until recently been the happy wife of Joseph, but was now a sorrowful widow, and likewise was the mother of an only child, a young man whose life was full of promise, who was now dying in agony on the cross before her very eyes.
Luke does not tell us that Jesus had such a vision at that moment, but I’m sure it happened. Wouldn’t such a flash forward be a gut-wrenching experience for him, and shake him to his very core? When Jesus said, “Do not weep,” he was feeling not only the grieving heart of the widow of Nain coming into him, but he was also feeling the immaculate heart of our Lady of Sorrows coming into him! No wonder it was a gut-wrenching experience for him!
My dear friends, think about this: His compassion at that moment was so total that it brought that widow’s son back to life!
And we are called to do the same! We are all called to love one another the same way that Jesus loved us, right? Well, how did He love us? As we just heard, He loved us with total life-giving compassion, so we are called to love one another with total life-giving compassion too! Some people in your life are suffering right now. You know who they are. Don’t avoid them! Let their heart come into you! Spend time with them. Feel what they are feeling. If it becomes a gut-wrenching experience for you, that means you’re doing it right. It will bring life to them, for you will be walking in the very steps of Jesus.