This meditation is based on Galations 1:11-24 and Luke 7:11-17.
Sometimes we experience grace in the places we least expect and with the people we least expect.
My family was notoriously late to everything growing up. I would like to blame my mom, but with four kids running around it’s a miracle she made it through without pulling all of her hair out. Since I am the oldest child, I had to experience many things first, without any guidance along the way. My first day of sixth grade both of these things hit home. I was of course late to school, I had missed the bus again. I was at a new school and had no idea what to do. I did not even know how to open a locker that had a combination. I was running extremely late for school and it was getting later as I could not open my locker when a really popular and beautiful 7th grader, who must have seen my panicked look, stepped out to help me open my locker. I had never even talked to this girl before, if I am being completely honest at that point in time I hadn’t talked to any girls that were not named Mom for more than a couple seconds. She even directed me to the room my first class was taking place. I walked into the room only to find out about 20 minutes later that I was not able to buy a hot lunch for the day because I had to purchase them before school. My sixth grade was really off to a swimming start it appeared. I went up to tell the teacher my predicament: I didn’t bring a lunch from home, I wanted to buy, and I missed the opportunity this morning. To make matters worse in my opinion, the lunch being served was my favorite: turkey and gravy. An eight grader who looked mean and intimidating walked up to me after class and said that he had an extra lunch ticket that he would be willing to give to me. I could not believe it in the span of an hour I had two complete strangers come up to me to help me survive my first day of the 6th grade. They provided grace during completely unexpected times. I should note that this was not an everlasting experience. In fact, I definitely had more lunch tickets stolen from me over the course of the year than those given to me, but on that day when I needed it more than ever, I was provided with grace.
In our gospel text this morning, a woman experiences grace at a most unexpected time at a most unexpected place.
The beginning of this text sounds like the beginning of a boxing match(certainly a strange one). In this corner is a funeral procession. A large crowd mourning the death of a young man. There is specific mention of the widow, who lost her husband, and has now lost her only son. And in this corner, is Jesus, this miraculous healer and potential son of God. He comes with a large group of people and the disciples. Then Jesus steps forward and interrupts the funeral procession. He tells the grieving widow to stop weeping.
There are a lot of people who wear those WWJD bracelets (What would Jesus Do). I do not think they expect to go around breaking up funeral processions and telling the grieving family to stop weeping. I have not witnessed any of that happening. While Hollywood has produced a movie called “Wedding Crashers”, I don’t think there will be sequel anytime soon called “Funeral Crashers.” But here is Jesus breaking up the funeral procession of the widow’s son.
This woman would have been considered at the margins of her society because she was a widow. She had no one to support her, so she would have had no way to survive and would have been look on as an outcast. Now that her only son has died, she will probably end up outside of that community and society as a whole perhaps sitting on the street, begging money to get by. This was a funeral procession for her son, but this was also the death of her as a part of this society.
However, once again Jesus knows more than the people gathered around him. He acts with compassion which the text says in Greek: (splachna). This is a deep down in your bones kind of compassion that compels him to act. Have you ever experienced splachna before? It’s a compassion that comes from your gut reaction to move forward and do something… is much that that feeling you get in the pit in your stomach.) Jesus does not even know this woman, but feels this splachna, this deep compassion, to help her. Essentially, he comes into the life of this widow and meets her right where she was at—emotionally and physically. The woman never tells Jesus anything. He literally interrupts the funeral procession and he does a couple things. Jesus knows the needs of this woman and then acts upon them. He knew that this woman was deeply mourning the loss of her son and the loss of her community. And without her asking, he brings the son back to life. He restores this widow her son and her community through his deep compassion and grace.
John Wooden passed away at the age of 99 this week. He is famous for leading UCLA to 10 College Basketball National Championships in the 60’s and 70’s. Many people have called him the greatest coach in the history of American sports. Wooden was well known for his odd sayings like (“Be quick but don’t hurry”), and he was especially known for his attention to detail. Apparently, he even showed his players how to put on their socks and shoes correctly before practice, so that none of them would get blisters. However, what set Wooden apart and will continue to set him apart was his ability to know each of his players inside and out. His players still talk about how Coach Wooden treated each one of them as individuals and how he knew each of their strengths inside and out. Therefore, he knew what motivated each player, he knew what buttons to push and when to push them. He knew when to pat players on the back and when to kick them in the their, you-know-what. Wooden has been asked over the thirty years since his retirement what he missed the most. Many people expected him to say the big games, winning national championships, or even the competition. However, I think his answered probably surprised many people. He said that what he missed the most was the relationships he was able to gain with each of the players. He missed things like practice, where he was able to take time aside to talk to the players to teach them about life, basketball, and each other. He lived his life with that compassion that splachna that Jesus provided for this woman.
We too are called to live lives full of deep compassion and love for one another. To provide love to people in both expected and unexpected places. To provide them grace that meets them where they are at; whether that is in a moment of grief and sorrow or a moment of celebration. This morning as we celebrate our high schoolers’s graduations, I pray that they’ve learned not just about math, English, and social studies at their schools, that you Messiah Lutheran, have taught them a little about splachna, about this deep compassion. Part of our calling from Jesus is to go, make disciples of all nations, through grace and compassion. As our students go out into the world, I pray they receive Christ’s grace and compassion so that they can share it with others in expected ways. Maybe it will be to help a younger person figure out the ropes of something new, who knows, maybe they will even be compelled to interrupt a funeral service someday and raise up a dead person, but regardless, may they be filled with grace and compassion so that all may see the face of Jesus.