By Elizabeth Baumann
A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 7:1-17
1 After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5 for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 6 And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7 therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 9 When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
11 Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12 As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favourably on his people!” 17 This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
Sometimes, I play a game with myself in which I pose a category and see how many things I can name in it. Last night, I gave myself the category “Holy Mothers in the New Testament”: Mary (of course), Elizabeth, Eunice, Lois… Then I faltered, and after a few moments I thought of the Widow of Nain, and wondered if she fit the category or not. What qualifies one to be a “holy” mother?
We know almost nothing about this woman, not even her name. We know she was a widow, we know she had only one son. But there’s a large crowd coming out with her to bury her son, so she doesn’t seem especially friendless. Still, to be without a male family member was a fearsome thing in her culture. In at least one children’s Bible telling of the story, that is the explanation for why Jesus raises this man. But it’s just a guess. Surely there were other women who lost their only son, or only child, or only male family member who Jesus didn’t happen along to restore.
We can make a lot of guesses about the things Luke doesn’t tell us. But they’re just guesses. We don’t know either who this woman was before this event, or who she became afterward. All we really know is what Jesus did for her. What else would we think we need to know? What more do we need to know about anyone, even ourselves, except what Jesus has done for them, and for us? So, yes, I conclude: the Widow of Nain qualifies as a Holy Mother, no matter whether she was the world’s best mother or not. Because holiness is never about how well we do, it’s about what Jesus does for us.
Elizabeth Baumann is a seminary graduate, a priest’s wife, and the mother of two small daughters. A transplant from the West Coast, she now lives in “the middle of nowhere” in the Midwest with too many cats.
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