“Another Mother”

Luke 7:11-17
March 24
David A. Davis
Jump to audio

Two large crowds. Great crowds. A large crowd went with Jesus and his disciples to a town called Nain. Another great crowd was coming toward them along the way. That crowd was surrounding a widow who lost her only son. In the Gospel of Luke when Levi the tax collector gave a great banquet for Jesus in his house, there was a great crowd of tax collectors. When Jesus preached the Sermon on the Plain in Luke, it was a great crowd of disciples and a great multitude of people. When Jesus tells the parable of the sower in Luke, he tells it to a great crowd. When Jesus, James, John, and Peter come down from the Mount of Transfiguration, a great crowd is waiting for them. You heard earlier this morning about “the whole multitude of the disciples” who shouted praise to Jesus on the colt as he headed down from the Mount of Olives. After Jesus died on that cross, Luke tells of the “all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle”.

It is as if Luke tells of a great crowd to make sure we are paying attention to what happens. As far as I can tell, the only great crowd surrounding anyone other than Jesus in the gospel of Luke is the crowd surrounding the widow who just lost her only son. Pretty much the whole town must be surrounding her as she heads out to bury her son. A great crowd sharing her grief. A great crowd embracing her at the time of unspeakable loss. A great crowd coming to support her in her now pressing cultural and economic vulnerability. Death comes and a great crowd gathers.

It is what people do when death’s relentless interruption to life comes. It is what people of faith do. It is what the church does. I know that because I have seen it over and over and over again. I have told you before that my then 21 year old brother was killed in a car accident when I was 7 years old. It was a Saturday night. When I woke up Sunday morning and looked out the window, the cars lining the street looked like my parents were having a party. My brother and I had not been told yet about Bobby’s death. It was announced at the early service of worship at church that morning. All of my parent’s friends came to the house right from there. It is kind of an act of our faith really. When death comes that great crowd no matter how small, embodies (hopefully with as few words as possible) a witness to life and our eternal hope.

When the two great crowds meet there at the town gate, one assumes it became a really great crowd. Luke wants us to pay close attention. When Jesus sees her and the whole town coming alongside her in that procession of death and grief, he has compassion for her and tells her not to weep. Here in the text, she says nothing. She doesn’t identify him as Messiah. She doesn’t ask him to do anything. She is doing the only thing she can do. She is weeping. Like the account of the man being lowered from a hole in the roof by his friends to be healed by Jesus, the only expression of faith here to be found is in the gathering of the neighbors that surround her. “ ‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’. The dead man sat up and began to speak and Jesus gave him to his mother.” Jesus gave the gift of life both to the man and to his mother.

The gospel of Luke tells of another procession of death and grief. The procession begins a few days before they made Jesus carry the cross they would use to murder him. The procession of death and grief began at the Mount of Olives. The difference between the two processions is that nobody on that downward path knew about the death and grief part. Instead, it was parade full of shouts of praise and joy-filled acclamations. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!” The Pharisees in the crowd didn’t tell Jesus to stop the shouting because they knew it was death march. The whole multitude of the disciples haven’t figured out coming death and resurrection part. Jesus knows where this is all headed and so do we.

Professor Eric Barreto points out the life of Jesus in Luke is framed beginning and end by his mother Mary. Mary, of course, is the first one to be told about Jesus by the angel Gabriel. At the time of his death, Luke tells of “all of his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood a distance, watching these things.” It was “the women who had come with him from Galilee” who followed Joseph of Arimathea to see him lay Jesus in the tomb. The same women who went back the next morning. Mary isn’t named but wouldn’t a mother go to her son’s tomb? In the opening part of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke tells of the disciples gathering together after the Ascension. Luke lists them by name. “All of these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer” Luke writes, “together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.”

Dr. Barreto also points out that in Luke’s gospel, Jesus never reprimands his mother. Neither does Mary try to get Jesus to stop teaching, preaching, and healing in Luke. That’s in Mark. So it is not a stretch to conclude that when Luke tells of great crowd, Mary the mother of Jesus would be there. When Jesus rode that colt down the path from the Mount of Olives and started up the other side of the valley toward Jerusalem, Mary would have been there too. But I can’t imagine Mary was joining in the shouts of praise and joy-filled acclamations. No, she couldn’t have been filled with joy because Mary knew. Like Jesus, Mary knew. The old man Simeon told her way back in chapter two. “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Mary knew. I have always sort of thought that Gabriel told her too. That when Mary “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart”, she knew. Maybe, maybe not, but when Mary joined that procession that began at the Mount of Olives, for her it was a procession of grief and death.

Don’t you think when Jesus looked into the eyes of the grieving mother surrounded by a great crowd on the way to the cemetery to bury her son, he was filled with compassion, and he saw in her eyes his own mother? At some point when the two great crowds met and made a very great crowd, can’t you just imagine that at some point amid the woman’s complete silence, Jesus and his mother saw each other and exchanged a profound, heart heavy, knowing look? There must be a special place in heaven for parents who must bury a child and there along that procession of death and of life, Jesus and his mother shared a knowing look with another mother. And by grace and the resurrection power of God, Jesus, foreshadowing his own death and his own resurrection, turns the procession into a miraculous witness to life. Jesus transforms a really great crowd staring at the reality of death. With very few words, Jesus turns that crowd into an embodied witness to life and our eternal hope.

You and I are part of a really great crowd today, in the coming days, and next Sunday too. The tradition labels Jesus’ process as the Triumphal Entry. But you and I, along with the whole multitude of disciples, we know where this is headed. We offer our shouts of praise and joy-filled acclamations this morning but soon we will surround Jesus in the Garden and weep. We don’t rush to the tomb and until we join Jesus’ acquaintances, including the women who followed him from Galilee, standing at a distance watching the spectacle of the imperial principalities and the power of darkness torture Jesus and beat the life out him. We are part of a great crowd called together by his suffering and death and a mother’s grief doing what people do when death calls, doing what resurrection promise-filled neighbors do. We offer an embodied witness to life and our eternal hope.

I don’t remember much else that happened on that Sunday morning when I was 7 years old, and a great crowd came to our house. My parents told me more of the details over the years. The friends who sat with them. A few who said things stupid things like “it must have been God’s will.” But more, many more who nothing and only wept. A few started cleaning the house without saying a word. The pastor came from the church after the second service of worship. And of course, all the things people did in the ways, weeks, and months and years that followed. Even though my memories are blocked by the trauma of it all I can see it deep down in my heart. Yes, because my parents, my sister, my brother, and some of those friends described it to me. But I can see it deep down even more because I have seen it over and over and over again. And so have you.

You might have noticed in Luke’s account of the procession from the Mt of Olives to the city of Jerusalem, there were no shouts of “Hosanna” which means “save us”. I figure those in the crowd still shouted it even though Luke doesn’t record it. It’s in the three other gospels. Save us! Save us! Save us! It’s always described as a joyful shout! But it’s a prayer-filled plea as well. Save us, dear Lord!

When that great crowd gathers around death to embrace the broken-hearted, amid that embodied witness to life and our eternal hope, there is a prayer-filled plea as well that defines that crowd. A prayer that rests way deep down in the soul. It dare not come in a joyful shout but in silence. It’s the same plea as the Palm Sunday one.
Save us! Save us! Save us! Not with a shout of hosanna but with prayer. Lord Jesus save us in our grief and point us to the hope of resurrection life. Join our procession here and now and forever lead us to the very heart of God.