“And she was a widow.”
This line from Luke 7:11-17 takes my breath away. I know it may sound odd, but in context of the Gospel story, it should break our heart.
The widow in Nain was being accompanied by a large crowd, carrying her only son who was now dead, and she was a widow. If Jesus had not intervened and raised her son, this widow’s fate would have been terrifying. The very same crowd that accompanied her with the carrying of her dead son would soon abandon her. Without a husband or son, societal norms would have forced her to spend the remainder of her life at the margins, ostracized and despised. She would have been expected to live her life as a homeless beggar, welcome in nobody’s home. That was the fate of a sonless widow. This may help us understand how important it was for Jesus to give Mary and John to each other (and the world) at the foot of the cross: “Behold your Son, behold your Mother.” Mary was a sonless widow.
You see, the miracle in the story is the raising of her son from the dead. However, the merciful act in the story is the restoring of the son’s mother to dignity. “Jesus gave him to his mother.” With a son, she would not be put out to the streets. She would not be forced to live a life full of numberless indignities.
Those present for this great act exclaimed, “God has visited his people!” Yes! God has visited his people. God is visiting his people! God is inviting us to extend our hearts—our entire selves—as missionaries of mercy, especially during this Year of Mercy.
God is still calling people to live the radical journey of turning things upside down—raising the dead and restoring dignity. God is still inviting us to reach out to those who have been marginalized by societal norms that find comfort in sameness.
As we discern God’s calling for us, we might want to ask ourselves: How willing am I to be turned upside down? Do I feel called to embrace the widow, leper, sick, addicted, uneducated, imprisoned, immigrant, abused—the marginalized? Is God calling me to live in this radical way? On which path will I live this radical lifestyle? Let us pray for the grace to recognize those who are marginalized. Let us pray for the grace to live as missionaries of mercy!
“Mercy is the distinctive feature of God.”
—St. Vincent de Paul, V11, L157