Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.
Jesus is still ministering in the region of Galilee and he enters a small village called Nain with his disciples. This is still in the popular early stages of his ministry and the crowds follow him. As he is entering the town a man who has died is being carried out of the town, in a coffin most likely itself resting on a platform or bier. This man was the only son of his mother, who is also a widow. A large crowd from the town walks out of the town with her. And so the two crowds meet, one following Jesus going into town, the other crowd following the widow and her dead son going out of the town.
When Jesus saw the woman he had compassion on her. This means that he had a deep awareness of how she was suffering and a desire to alleviate her suffering if he could. For she most surely was suffering.
When death entered the world through sin it brought with it a tidal wave of sorrow and affliction and loss. Human beings were not mean to have their relationships dissolved and broken by death. The loss and sorrow that we experience when one dies is as real as real can be. There is little in life more real and painful. To lose a child, as with the woman of Nain, is more painful still, for even in this broken world we have accepted to a certain degree death due to old age.
The passage says nothing about Jesus’ compassion on the dead son. His concern is with the suffering mother. He looks at her and says what at first seems to be cruel or just insensitive, “Do not weep.” But then he reaches forward and touches the bier. This is one of those quiet gestures that everyone knows means stop, be still, watch.
Jesus speaks to the dead person, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the man who was dead rises up and begins to speak. He probably said something like, “Uh, what’s going on here and why are you carrying me outside of the city?”
You know, even back then dead people didn’t normally come back to life, and the people were duly awed.
But I want you to notice a simple little phrase, “Jesus gave him to his mother.” Jesus had had compassion on the mother. He healed the son for the sake of his mother. Now, as if giving her a gift, he gives the young man back to his mother. The dissolution that death had caused had, for now, ended. He had given her back her son.