13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.
I have seen people brought back from death’s door; I have never seen anyone brought back through it.
If the scriptures are to be for us the truth of God and not a pious fairy tale, we have to acknowledge this. What is being described here, if taken at literal face value, is impossible. We have brought people back whose heart has stopped. We have brought people back who have been immersed in frigid waters. But there is a big difference between restarting a stalled heart and restoring life to the dead.
If we hear this text as a story of divine power we may find grace in it, for there are few of us who have not needed that reassurance in time of some distress. God is a God who can transform hopeless situations. But there are also few of us who have not wept and prayed for God to do just this over the body of a child, a parent, a spouse or friend – and none of them have been raised once that breath is gone.
In those anguished moments, what can such a text say? That God has no compassion for me in my sorrow? That my prayer is not worthy of such an answer? It is a painful road to travel. And it usually ends with a disjunction between the world of the Bible and my world. Such things happened then, but no longer. Once upon a time…
But there is another way to hear the text – not as a text about the power of God but as a text about the compassion of God. And this is what our sisters and brothers in the first century heard.
For them, raising the dead was a wonder, but it was not impossible. They did not stumble over that portion of the story. What they heard was the word of compassion. What they saw was that the God of heaven and earth, who gives the breath of life to all things, had come near to save. The day when the veil of tears would be lifted was dawning. The people who walked in darkness were seeing the first light of dawn.
A world of injustice was being turned towards justice. A world of hunger was being turned towards the sharing of bread. A world of violence was being turned towards peace, a world of hate towards love. A world where humanity’s impossible debt to the honor of God was being erased and new life dawning. A world governed by death was being governed by an unconquerable life.
We can see that in the text, too. It doesn’t have to be for us about the power of God to do the impossible. It can be for us instead about the healing of the world.