There are several things about this text that are troubling.
First: The widow did not ask for Jesus’ help.
She was not like the woman who shoved her way through the crowd in order to touch the hem of his garment. She was not the Centurion who sought out Jesus and said, “Just say the word and my servant will be healed.” There was no seeking here. It may be the woman did not even know who Jesus was.
Second: The widow showed no great sign of faith.
This is not a story where Jesus could turn and say, “Your faith has made you well.” There were no faith lessons here. There was no “With God all things are possible.” No. The woman may not have known who Jesus was and she certainly showed no sign that this itinerant Rabbi could do anything about her situation. All she could do was cry.
Third: The widow showed no gratitude. At least there is no record of it.
The son did not seem to show gratitude, either. Neither did the mourners or those who carried the coffin. They were in awe. They praised God as they should. But not one said thanks.
I wonder if the son might have resorted to sarcasm, like, “Thanks a lot! Now I have to struggle for another 40 years. I will have to watch my sole surviving parent, my mother die. And then I am going to die in the end, anyway! I mean, I was happy where I was.” So, did you ever think the dead might be happy where they are? Isn’t it the survivors who suffer and cry?
So: My point here is, without seeking Jesus, without showing faith, without even any gratitude after the fact, Jesus raised the son anyway. This story then is pure grace. There is nothing we can do on our part that that matters. The Lord will be gracious unto whom he will be gracious.
It is so easy to shuffle the miracle deck and place this healing miracle in with all the rest. But this one is different. It is all grace. Salvation is all grace, not works. Salvation, the ultimate healing for us all is not in the seeking, the believing or the thanks. Those would be works on our part, but salvation is all grace. It is all just grace. Imagine that!
But then there is another troubling thing about this passage:
To understand, you have to consider the companion Old Testament passage for this Sunday found in I Kings 17:8-24 because the widow there, whose son was restored by the prophet Elijah said it best:
“Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth.” (NIV).
In the passage from Luke it was not quite spelled out so good:
“A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” (NIV).
The second—the passage in Luke—sounds like the only thing the people were interested in was what God could do for them to “help” them. I am sure there was some of that. But the woman in Elijah’s day said out loud what I am sure most people realized back then: This man (at the very least) speaks for God.
It is right that they had a party. You can be sure if I was there when a young man was raised from the dead, I would be first in line at the party. But the question I have is: how many of these people then turned around and followed after Jesus? There is no indication that any of them did. There is no indication that any of them did not.
In our day, we hear a story about God’s healing, almighty hand entering into life and making people whole. But how do we hear this? Do we hear it as the Word of Truth? And why does it not change us more than it appears?
On that troubling day when Jesus asked the twelve, “Will you also go away?” The Disciples at least understood that much. “Where shall we go? Yours are the words of eternal life.” But what do we hear. We celebrate God’s grace, but afterwards, do we follow?
I can only speak for myself. When I hear these stories, and this story of pure grace especially, I am inspired to seek, to believe, and to give thanks for all his goodness. And I listen afterwards and try to live the words he says. I follow with all my mind, heart, soul and strength, not only because his are the words of eternal life, but because I want to see and perhaps even participate in the extraordinary thing he does next. I want to be part of the resurrection unto life. I want to enjoy the eternal party.