Let us continue to look at how Jesus presented the kingdom of God as he spent time with people who others forgot in Luke chapter 7.
There were two healings at Nain. The widow who had already lost her husband has now lost her only son through that husband. The injustice of the inheritance laws as they were enacted in Jesus’ day made it possible for the inheritance now to go to the husband’s brother. By raising the son, the widow was raised to her inheritance but now that the son has died she has nothing. We don’t know if the brother would have been just or not. It is interesting that Luke 7 presents the story that Jesus heard that it was a widow who had lost her only son, and he went to the funeral procession uninvited. I don’t know about you but it takes me hours to get upbeat again after attending a funeral. You have such sympathy and can identify with the loss. Jesus would have heard the funeral dirges and the mourners from a distance. Jesus must have sent his disciples to inquire as to the circumstances of the death.
Nain is located on the hill of Moreh. The main road goes from Jewish Galilee around the hill of Moreh down through a valley between Samaria and Galilee. (This is also mentioned in Luke 17 in the story of the healing of the ten lepers.) The road continues crossing a little bit of the Decapolis at a place called Scythopolis and then goes down the Jordan Valley. It was the main route to Jerusalem that avoided the pagan areas.
A clue that Jesus was on a journey to Jerusalem is that Luke 7:18 says that John the Baptist had heard about the Nain story. John was in prison in Judea beyond Jordan. This was the first time Jesus was called a prophet and it was the first time that the writer of Luke uses the word “Lord” when speaking of Jesus. “When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.'” You see that we are beginning to see “king” even though Jesus was “rabbi” at the time. Jesus’ favorite self-disclosure was “rabbi.” With the use of the word “Lord” we are beginning to see some of the things the prophets hoped for – God remembering people who were easy to forget.
The word “Nain” means “and the land was pleasant.” Nain in modern English is “Pleasantville.” Jesus came to “Pleasantville” when there were funeral dirges and a widow who had lost her husband and now lost her only son. Jesus left “Pleasantville” pleasant.
Nain is in the tribe of Issachar. The blessings of the twelve tribes at the end of Genesis says about Issachar “and how pleasant the country.” We should not be surprised that a town in a tribe called “pleasant” is named “Pleasantville.” People at that time would have known what Nain meant.
On the other side of the Hill of Moreh is Shunem. If you walk to Shunem, cross the top of the hill and go down the other side you will be at Nain. In I Kings 17, Elijah raised the widow’s son and in II Kings 4, Elisha through god raised a woman’s son at Shunem. In the Nain story, Luke 7 says “Jesus gave him back to his mother.” This reminds Luke’s Jewish audience of the Elijah story. The name of the village Nain is mentioned because the first hearers would have known that Nain is on the hill where god, through Elisha, raised a woman’s son at Shunem. The technically correct word for what happened in the stories of Nain and Shunem, as well as the Lazarus story, is “resuscitation” and not resurrection. Resurrection is only used in reference to Jesus.
The point I am emphasizing is that Luke 7:13-16 is the first time Luke calls Jesus “Lord” and says, “A great prophet has risen among us!” What helps recognize the Kingdom of God? Prophetic activity helps us see the Kingdom of God. Prophets are teachers but they also have a gift from God for healing. The word of the prophet goes to the daughters, the poor. When churches do prophet-like activities among the poor and reach out to victims of possible social and legal injustices, we are seeing the Kingdom of God now.
In the latter part of Luke 7 there is another story. In this story, there is a named religious male, Simon the Pharisee, and an unnamed impure woman at the feast at Simon’s house. Simon has let it be known that Jesus might come to the feast, but he is not so “hot” on some of the things he has heard about Jesus and Simon did not give Jesus a proper welcome. Every culture has gifts of hospitality. In our culture we have four gifts. When someone knocks on the door, first we say hello, second we invite them to come in, third we offer them a seat, and forth we offer them something to drink. A proper welcome in Jesus’ day would have included offering to wash the guest’s hands and feet, to kiss him, and to anoint him with oil. When Jesus arrived at Simon’s house, Simon did not give Jesus any of these gifts of hospitality.
“The woman heard that Jesus would be dining at Simon’s house.” When she heard this she went to there as well because she knew that Jesus would be coming. She was likely at Simon’s house before Jesus got there. It is important to understand that the woman was at Simon’s house before Jesus arrived and that she witnessed the humiliation of Jesus when he was not offered the gifts of hospitality. The woman had a “bad name” in town. This would have been understood that she was a prostitute. Prostitutes had their hair unfurled and visible. A modest woman would have her hair covered. The kingdom is brought even to people with “bad names.”
This story in Luke 7 became unjustly associated with Mary Magdalene. This happened because the story of Mary Magdalene in Luke 8 immediately follows the story of the woman with the “bad name” in Luke 7. The woman in the story in Luke 7 is an “unnamed” woman. Mary Magdalene had the problem of demons that were cast out. It is also easy to confuse this story with the story of a woman named Mary who anoints Jesus at the house of another person named Simon (Simon the leper). It is easy to think that it is the same story. But it is not – this story takes place in Galilee with an unnamed woman at Simon the Pharisee’s house. Simon was a very common name in the first century.
The unnamed woman in the Luke 7 story does not have a basin or a towel, but she wants to extend the gifts of hospitality to Jesus that Simon did not offer. The woman had her tears and her hair and so she washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Simon said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him – that she is a sinner.” Jesus could read Simon’s face. Can you imagine how everyone would have perked up when Jesus, a guest, got everyone’s attention and said, “Simon, I have something I would like to say to you. You invited me to your house but you did not pour water from a container on my hands, you did not kiss me, and you did not anoint me with oil. Ever since I have been here this woman has not stopped pouring water on my hands and she has not stopped kissing me.”
In the old testament periods many people kept their tears in tear cups or tear vases, like the one pictured here. it is very important to understand that the woman was not crying with her tears dropping but rather she was pouring her past grief out of a container. What a beautiful gift! My guess is that the people around the table were responsible for the tears that made up her past grief.
The story ends with the past perfect tense of the verb, “Your sins have already been forgiven; go in peace.” The woman has been to Jesus before. Jesus assured her of God’s forgiveness and he reminded her that they had already spoken about this and her sins have already been forgiven. (The woman had probably recently begun rolling her hair up since she had already been to Jesus. The Greek word can mean that she “unfurled” her hair to dry his feet.)
You should also understand that the woman was not bumping around under the table. The guests were at a reclining table lying down on cushions with their feet pointed toward the outer wall, as in the tapestry pictured here.
The woman heard that Jesus was invited to the feast and she went but she was not invited. Hospitality in that culture was so important that you were supposed to allow uninvited guests to come. It was considered magnanimous to permit uninvited guests. The woman was standing against the back wall.
Where is the Kingdom activity in these stories? The details of these stories are reminding people with a bad reputation of God’s grace. You have to have assurance from people of God’s grace. Have you ever stopped to think that faith is affirmation? Faith is a community affirming to one another that what Jesus said about God is true – God is gracious and forgiving. Where do we find the Kingdom of God? We find it in an “affirming community.” We need each other to remind us and to affirm the Kingdom of God and the grace of God.