Let me start by drawing out some important points from the story of the raising of the widow’s son in Nain.
Widow’s were amongst the most vulnerable people in Jewish society in the first century. Along with orphans they were a shorthand way of describing someone in absolute dire need. In her society, without a husband her son would be her provider and protector, and with him dead her state was parlous, and faced probable destitution.
This parable then sees Jesus as the embodiment of God answering or meeting a great need. Note also that nobody asks Jesus to act, and no one declares any faith. But God, and the transformative nature of God’s presence is “in” the situation and makes a difference.
Jesus wasn’t the first person in the Bible said to have raised people from the dead of course. In fact in the old testament the prophets Elijah and Elijah both raise the dead children of widows (1 & 2 Kings) parables saying exactly the same thing – that God’s presence meets dire need and can have a transformative effect.
The very nature of God is to bring life out of death both symbolically and literally, both within our mortal lives and beyond our mortal existence.
As a premium example of someone being brought from spiritual death to spiritual life within his mortal life, St. Paul recounts his own experience in his letter to the Galatians.
He writes of his own experience of being an active opponent of the church and having a profound spiritual experience on the road to Damascus that transformed his life. We can easily forget that St. Paul never knew Jesus and has no knowledge or very little direct knowledge of Jesus’ life and ministry which is why you find no references to Jesus’ life or sayings in any of Paul’s letters.
All he would have had to go on was his meeting with Peter and James in Jerusalem after disappearing to Arabia for three years after his conversion experience. In our translation, after his sojourn in the desert it said that he “visited” Peter, but apparently the English word doesn’t do Justice to the Greek. It was more of a private consultation where there would have been an exchange of views and Peter would doubtless have also furnished Paul with some basic information on what Jesus was actually like in life.
Paul’s “knowing” of the Spirit of God in Jesus wasn’t based on a personal flesh and blood encounter, it was based on a spiritual encounter – a spiritual encounter that Paul himself puts on the same level as the post resurrection encounters of the twelve apostles by the way. That encounter resulted in a re-orientation of Paul’s mind and Spirit that we call metanoia - but a more common word would be a transformation.
So for us, the template for transformation is Paul rather than the disciples. We, like St. Paul, never knew Jesus, but the possibility of God taking our lives and making them more productive and fruitful based on a spiritual encounter, or a series of spiritual encounters - a deeper knowing of God - is exactly the same for us as for Paul. (And actually exactly the same as it was for Jesus!)
I noted in my mid week letter that both Paul and Jesus took time to discern what their encounters meant. Both took a long time in the desert or wilderness, which you can take metaphorically or literally to think and contemplate and work out what this encounter really meant for them.
We are the same. Whatever inner compulsion you have for going to church, whatever experience of the nebulous you have ever had, whatever nagging questions you have ever had about your life and place in the cosmos – we need to honestly lay those questions out in front of us to allow us to think about them in the context of a Spiritual reality we call God and trust that in following that light however dim it might sometimes feel, we might discern his presence with us and trust that we are heading in the right direction and are heading towards our goal – which is also God.
A little further on you may also discern that this journey is actually one of self realisation. In coming to know God you come to know yourself and likewise, in getting to know who you really are in the core of your being, you come to know God. I am reminded of the old lliturgical greeting..
Come near to God and he will come near to you.
This comes from the letter of James and seems to encapsulate what I am trying to say. Of course James, Jesus’ brother, was the other person Paul names as meeting in Jerusalem. James is yet another example of Spiritual life out of death. Jesus’ family were against him in his life but came to a new understanding of his brother’s life and message after he had died. And so, because of his provenance as Jesus’ brother it was James rather than any of the disciples that came to pre-eminence in the early church in Jerusalem. James writes of an internal Spiritual transaction;
Come near to God and he will come near to you.