The Hope Christ Offers
An old woman sits in her chair, remembering. She has had her fill of sorrows. She has known loss as only someone can who has watched many years pass by. But she sits there, in her poverty, with a joy overflowing in her heart. There was once an interruption to her losses. Something broke through the expected norm. It shattered the delusion that this world is all there is: a glimpse into something other.
She was a widow. Her husband died and left her stranded in the world. She had the same friends, the same social network, the same, basic routines, but nothing was the same. Her only consolation was her son. One boy to take her husband's place. She can still remember his infant hair and his first words. Then he died.
“As [Christ] approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town” (Luke 7:12).
Two, brief sentences, but they say so much. Who was the woman? What else had she suffered? What filled her heart as she walked along in that dreary procession?
A large crowd came with her. What was this crowd? They were professional mourners. In those times, it was custom for the funeral procession to weep and wail passionately. It was a sign of respect, but also of graciousness. The noise covered up the real grief — it gave an opportunity for the family, and especially the widow, to cry her heart out without embarrassment.
They were approaching the burial site. Most likely, it was a cave somewhere outside the city. Somehow, it felt right to step out of the day’s light into the darkness that swallows the dead. They would lay the boy at the spot chosen beside the bones of his father. The boy would sleep with his ancestors. They would all sleep there eventually. This was the culmination of life as they knew it: a procession to death.
All of a sudden, a profoundly different crowd comes up to them. One community was wailing. The other was laughing. The juxtaposition could not have been more stark. As though they had stepped out from another world, Christ and his disciples walk upon this scene of grief. Our Lord sees the bier, he sees the wailing, and he sees the mother, and he groans in his heart. He is filled with compassion — ἐσπλαγχνίσθη (in Greek). He is moved in his gut by the pain: the pain of the mother; the pain of the boy and father whose souls had been buried in Sheol; the pain that this whole scene represents: the long, unending procession to death that marks every part of human life.
Christ walks up to the bier. The scriptures say, “the bearers stood still.” Most of the time, Christ’s interference stirs people up. But this time they were speechless. They could not even move, they were so baffled. It was forbidden strictly in Jewish law that a priest or rabbi ever touch death. What was this rabbi doing?
Christ reaches out. He lays his hands on the bier and speaks: “‘Young man, I say to you, arise!”
“The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God” (Luke 7:15-16).
Now imagine this old woman, years later, remembering. After all the first excitement and rejoicing. After all the family and relatives celebrated. Eventually, they would settle back into normal life, but they would never be the same.
You can picture her in her old age, sitting in a rocking chair perhaps, thinking, pondering, and reminiscing. For sure, her life had been no fairy tale. She and her boy must have shared all kinds of losses and griefs afterwards. Perhaps he outlived his mother, or maybe he died from some latter misfortune. The crypt was still out there, a dark room waiting to swallow more dead. Her husband still lay in the gloomy cave. She and her boy would eventually join them. The story of death was not over.
So what did Jesus Christ really give her? He gave her hope.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).
Jesus Christ did not come to end suffering here on earth. He healed a few. He raised some dead. But, ultimately, everyone who encountered Christ still had a lot of suffering ahead. Jesus Christ offered us something far more profound. He gave us hope.
We take hope for granted. The historian, David Bentley Hart, describes the social revolution that Christianity brought the world. Before the Church, the world was a very gloomy place. The pagans certainly had their revelries. The Greeks and Romans knew how to party, with no less zeal or innovation than you might see in a frat house today. Yet, beneath all the noise was a deep despair. Life was twisted, nihilistic. Crowds resorted to gladiators and public torture for entertainment. The gods were selfish and hateful. The afterlife was a shadowy place of ghosts and demons. In more ways than one, pre-Christian society was very post-modern, where only drugs offer a chance of escape.
David Bentley Hart states: “The ‘new thing’ that the gospel imparted to the world in which it was born and grew was something that pagan religion could only occasionally [offer] but never sustain, and that pagan philosophy would, in most cases, have found shameful to promote: a deep and imperturbable joy.”
Jesus Christ came into the world to offer us hope.
He healed the widow’s boy to give us hope.
He died and raised from the dead, so that in all our sorrows, we can cling to something that the secular world can never offer: hope.
We have to take this message home with us.
“With minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming” (1 Peter 1:13).
Christ breaks into all our affairs here on earth, reminding us that there is more. He offers us a life, now, with hope. Hope is a seed planted in our heart, a virtue, that we have to nurture, water, feed, and care for tenderly. Hope for the Kingdom should inspire everything we do, it should be in our thoughts when we first wake up, and carry us to the end.
May God give us strength to set our hope in Him, that we can spend our remaining time here aspiring for eternity.