The Widow of Nain

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Note: This is part of an ongoing series of posts about women in scripture.

One of the lesser-known women in the New Testament is an unnamed widow, living in a small town of Nain. Her story is beautifully retold by Keith Wilson in his fabulous BYU Devotional (I encourage you to check out his whole talk!) Quoting from Brother Wilson:

“During Jesus’s time, Nain was a small farming village nestled up against Mount Moreh, which defined the east side of the Jezreel Valley. The town itself was off the beaten path, and access to it was limited to a single road. During Jesus’s time, this hamlet would have been small and relatively poor…

Jesus was in Capernaum the day before and had healed the centurion’s servant. Then we learn that “the day after,” the Savior went into a city called Nain, and a large group of disciples accompanied Him.

This sequence of events is very important. Capernaum is situated on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee at an elevation of 600 feet below sea level. Nain is about thirty miles away from Capernaum at 700 feet above sea level, thus requiring an arduous, uphill climb of more than 1,300 feet to get to Nain. In order to walk from Capernaum to Nain, it would have taken at least one or two days… Jesus probably had to walk during the night in order to intercept the burial procession “the day after.”

As Christ approached the city after a very taxing journey, a young man in his twenties was being carried out on a burial bier. Luke wrote that this young man was a widow’s only son, and some scholars interpret the Greek text to imply that she had no other offspring.

Obviously, having a son die would be a tragedy for anyone, but consider the implications for this widow. Just what would it have meant socially, spiritually, and financially to be a widow without an inheritor in ancient Israel? Not only was there spiritual and emotional pain, but this widow of Nain was also facing financial ruin—even staring starvation in the face.

Precisely at the narrow window of time when the villagers were carrying this woman’s son out to be buried, Jesus happened upon the procession and “had compassion on her.” Jesus somehow sensed the utterly desperate situation of this widow. Perhaps she had spent the night sprawled on her dirt floor, begging the Lord to know why. Perhaps she had even openly questioned why the Lord was requiring her to live any longer on this earth. Or perhaps she was terrified of the pending loneliness that she was facing. We do not know. But we do know that Jesus chose to leave Capernaum immediately, which would have required Him to walk through the night in order to intercept the burial procession right before they put the body in the ground. Yes, when He saw her tear-stained face as she walked behind the funeral pallet, Jesus felt great compassion for this woman—but it came from feelings that He had experienced long before He just “happened” to intercept that burial entourage. He clearly had planned to be there in her moment of need.

Jesus then told the widow to “weep not.” Unafraid of ritual uncleanness, He touched the pallet, and the procession “stood still.” He then commanded, “Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.”

Following this, Luke recorded, “And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And [Jesus] delivered him to his mother.”

Naturally, the crowd of villagers and Jesus’s followers were awestruck as their shared grief turned to shared joy. But this miracle was not just about impressing a community. It was all about rescuing one desperate soul. Jesus was aware that something was very wrong for this woman—someone who was a true “nobody” in her culture. Her situation cried out for His immediate attention. Even if He had to skip a night’s rest, He knew her desperate situation, and He came running.”

With Brother Wilson, I testify that Jesus will come running to each of us in our moments of need!