This was no ordinary tragedy. These were days, after all, well before any type of National Pension Scheme. Naim may have been at the heighth of it’s economic history but it still remained well off the main roads of Galilee sheltered under the hilly watch of Mount Moreh where Gideon had once amassed his army. Widows, in the ancient Middle East, trod a very precarious path through no fault of their own. Bereft of a husband their legal standing was awkward- totally dependent on any children or their nearest male relative. Take a son out of the picture and their whole ability to exist, beyond begging, came into question. It was a dire situation that the poor widow had not even begun to fathom as she prepared to bury her son probably on the very day of his death. We don’t know much more than that. We do know that the situation was very, very serious. The prospects were not good.
The theological point of today’s Gospel is Our Lord’s power over death. It is at the centre of our faith, indeed a motivation for us, that one day we will come to benefit in His power over death - that we too may be ‘raised from the dead’. We think of that in terms of going to Heaven- for the widow of Naim even that was not the certain outcome of her son’s death. There was no comfort from any notion of an eventual joyful reunion- that was a novel idea that hadn’t quite filtered into rural 1st century Judaism. Death was death and all that could possibly remain was some sort of shadowy memory of the one who had died. Literally the grave was the grave and once you were in one, that was that. So the widow had lost her husband, her son, her livelihood, her prospects and, what was the worst, any hope of her own continued existence in the memories of her descendants.
Our Lord’s actions on that day were truly radical in the sense that they got to the radix, the root of the problem. No pious words of comfort but direct action that would rectify the situation and put things back to where they should have been. It was the achievement of one who could only have been God. Jesus’s raising of this widow’s son was essentially yet another sign, a proof if you like, of God coming to be with his people. That was nearly 2000 years ago. Today he does the same. At this altar God will come to us again raising us to the possibility of eternal life. Giving us salvation in that most precious gift of his own body and blood in the Blessed Sacrament. Our only response can be like the people of Naim- one of Godly fear- not of terror but of awe in what God can do and what he continues to do.
"God has been with us," was the cry
Of that assembled company;
Each heart was filled with love and fear,
And all confessed the Godhead near.
The widow's tears, her sadness gone,
She felt not upon earth alone.
With fervent praver and humble mind.
To every will of God's resigned.
Reuben Percy, ‘Theta’ in
The Mirror of literature, amusement The Mirror of literature, amusement, and instruction,
Volume 34, p. 373 (1839)