It was a day not unlike any other.
Dirt clung to the heels of the people who passed in the street and in the public places. Flies gathered around dogs’ ears and water splashed as it poured from the well into jars. There were silent, knowing glances exchanged between parents over the heads of children, laughing at the magic of their play.
Jesus walked into a village called Nain on a day like this.
He heard the teasing of schoolboys, saw smiling women embrace in warm hugs, and caught wind of the ancient smell of cooking fires, already lit for lunch preparation. He felt his friends around him, kicking up a thick cloud of dust as they walked together. I imagine them enjoying themselves, for the day itself seemed to agree that all was well and that life was rich, though often so ordinary.
Until another sound permeated the noise of the day. The sound of weeping.
It must have occurred to them somewhat suddenly amidst the crowds and the bustle – like things sometimes do to us in a way that makes the smiles, the laughter and jesting so appropriate for everyday seem like a harsh intrusion. I wonder if the grin slid slowly from his face as recognition of the sound dawned on his consciousness.
We know what happened next, right? The widow, for whom that day was anything but common, approached wailing a heartbroken cry at heaven and earth. I’m not implying that she approached intentionally. In fact, I think she probably didn’t. She was walking and she was mourning. Those may have been the only things of which she was aware. If she had any expectation of Jesus, it is not recorded in the Scripture. But she wept – oh my, how she must have wept – that much we do know. As Jesus surveyed the situation, understanding dawned on him slowly, and his heart broke with hers.
We know that he touched the lifeless body of her beloved – so still there, awaiting burial. And that the pulse of life returned.
End of beautiful story.
There are those (and I have been among them, yes) who would draw a plain line between the text of Scripture and its exact and irrefutable meaning. Those who would walk you to story after story, making them each a parable of their own, from which we the readers are expected to draw some kind of moralistic application for the betterment of our lives. The assumption is that certitude can be reached by the discovery of each fable’s meaning, which often lies obviously tucked into the bottom line of the narrative.
I’m not sure I’m down with that anymore.
Because people like to say that Jesus only comes to those who make room for Him, that He responds to those who call on Him, and if a person – even a widow in her darkest hour – would not lift her face His way, that He would somehow be impeded in doing of what He did best: good. I understand that there are other Bible stories which might engender such a view, but when I look at the widow of Nain and watch the situation unfold between her searing grief and that Carpenter from Nazareth on the dusty street that ordinary day, I can’t help but question such a conclusion.
I wonder at the places in my life that blink No Vacancy in garish neon. I wonder at that little town of Bethlehem in which He was met with the same sign. I wonder at the portrait of a tear-stained God holding out His hands all day to a stubborn people who want none of Him. For aren’t we, all of us, a people who have no room for Him?
And yet He came. Where He wasn’t wanted, wasn’t asked for, wasn’t sought.
Perhaps the Kingdom of Heaven does come to the bold and the brave, to the striving and the staunch, who ask for it and storm the gates and seek with all their heart. But perhaps there are also times when it comes looking for you. And for me. We who are in a place like Nain with hearts too weighted by the pain of life on planet Earth to lift them heavenward. Maybe we have these places in our lives to remind us that grace never ever comes to the deserving, for to do so would be to deny itself by very definition, but to the needy.
Perhaps more than any tidy conclusion or neatly packaged systematic answer, smacked with a theological bow, what we gather from bits and pieces of the stories that have been left for us is that the Kingdom of Heaven comes. On the hump days of our most monotonous weeks. With the ins and outs of all the stuff of life at its most benign. In the scoops of vanilla and the peanut butter sandwich places.
It comes. He comes. And perhaps we learn to trust – not in spite of – but because of the holy mystery in which we live.
“They all realized they were in a place of holy mystery,
that God was at work among them.”
Luke 7:16 MSG