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6. Hurting Women Identified by Pain: Widow of Nain

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Time: Jesus' Second Year of Ministry, ~AD 28


Jesus was well into his ministry at this point. He called His disciples to Him (Luke 6:22) and proceeded to give the Sermon on the Mount—an amazing presentation of God's love and mercy. He then went to Capernaum, continued His ministry to the sick and suffering, and encountered an unusual Roman centurion who loved his servant and the Jewish people. Jesus was amazed at the soldier’s understanding of God’s authority over His people and moved to heal the slave, who was in the centurion’s home.

After this miracle, Jesus and His disciples headed to a city called Nain, about 10 miles southeast of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. The small town is reached from the west by traveling up a steep road with rock tombs on either side. The road leading from Capernaum to Nain (see map in “New Testament Insights”), which Jesus would have traveled, enters the town from the northeast past a small burial ground.

Failing to honor the dead was perhaps the greatest lack of respect a Jew could display. Bystanders were obligated to follow a funeral procession, with hired mourners adding to the wails of friends. The body was wrapped in cloth and carried on a bier. After the funeral, mourning continued for 30 days.

Paid mourners developed as a profession in Old Testament times but continued into the time of Jesus. As a career that passed from mother to daughter, professional mourners were almost always women. Their mourning was with dirges and eulogies, sometimes accompanied by flutes.

The birth of a son was an occasion of great celebration. In the Jewish culture, giving birth to a son gave a woman value in her husband's eyes. A baby boy ensured the hope of passing on the family wealth and name. His presence guaranteed social security. It would be his responsibility to care for his aging parents, and especially his mother once widowed. It was thus the hope of every Jewish woman to have a son…

Day One Study

1. Widows in Israel were considered to be under God’s special care. They wore distinctive garb so they could be identified. Read the following verses and note how God intended to care for them through His people and warnings when Israel failed to protect these vulnerable women:

  • Deuteronomy 14:28-29—
  • Deuteronomy 24:19; 26:12—
  • Psalm 68:4-5; 146:9—
  • Isaiah 1:17,23; 10:1-2—

Two of Israel’s Old Testament prophets were known for performing miracles, especially to widows—Elijah and Elisha. In fact, Jesus was often compared to one or other of these prophets as He performed miracles during His ministry. So, let’s familiarize ourselves with what the people of Nain already knew.

2. Read 1 Kings 17:7-16 and 2 Kings 4:1-7. Describe what happened and how each woman responded.

  • The widow of Zarephath (near Sidon)—
  • The prophet’s widow—

3. Read 1 King 17:17-24 and 2 Kings 4:8-37. God also used these two prophets to bring someone back from the dead. Describe what happened and how each woman responded.

  • The Widow of Zarephath—
  • The Shunammite woman—

4. Summarize what you learned about God’s care for women.

Day Two Study

5. Read Luke 7:11-15. From the text of verses 11-12, describe the scene, the woman and her circumstances.

  • The scene—
  • The woman—
  • Her circumstances—

6. Note the timing of Jesus’ entrance into the city. Do you think this was a coincidence? Explain your answer.

7. The size of the crowd showed the real sympathy of the town for her. The loss of a son in the Jewish culture was a great tragedy. What made this situation even more tragic? Read Zechariah 12:10, Psalms 68:5, and 2 Kings 4:14 for insight.

8. Deeper Discoveries (optional): Research the plight of widows in Israel and other areas of the Roman Empire during this time period. What were their options?

9. If you have experienced the pain of someone very close to you, you probably understand the widow’s state of mind when she encountered Jesus. What do you think she was thinking and feeling? (Think beyond the obvious!)

10. Living Out His Love: The size of the crowd showed the real sympathy of the town for her. Christians often do not know what to say to someone who is grieving, or they say things that hurt more than help (for example, “You can have another child” or “She’s in a better place”). One of the nicest things someone wrote to me in a card after my father died several years ago was this, “Knowing you, I look forward to meeting your dad in heaven one day.” I cherished that card.

If you have been in a place of grief, what did someone close to you say or do that helped you through it? What did someone say or do that added to the pain? Research online suggestions for what should be said/done or not be said/done to someone grieving in various situations. Discuss with your group.

Day Three Study

11. Read Luke 7:11-15. Discuss Jesus' reaction to the widow and, specifically, what He said to her.

From the Greek: The Greek word translated “compassion” in Luke 7:13 means "to be moved as to one's inwards, to be moved with compassion, to yearn with compassion. Compassion is frequently recorded of Christ towards the multitude and towards individual sufferers.” See also Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; Mark 1:41 and Luke 10:33. (Vines, Unger and White, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, pp. 116-117)

12. Jesus could have just passed by and assumed the town would meet her basic needs of food and shelter. But, He didn’t. The scripture says that Jesus felt compassion for the widow. What does this reveal about Him?

13. Read Mark 12:38-44. Jesus was continually teaching His disciples about people. Contrast Jesus’ assessment of the heart attitudes of the religious leaders with that of this widow. What did He want His disciples to grasp?

14. Jesus represented His Father’s heart for people. Read Psalm 103:13-14 and 2 Corinthians 1:3. Discuss how our God is a loving, compassionate God.

15. Read Luke 7:14 again. In the first part of the verse, Jesus does something very unusual for a Jewish teacher. What is it, and why is this significant? See also Numbers 6:6; 19:11 and Leviticus 22:3-4.

16. Living Out His Love: Jesus’ heart went out to this grieving widow. Isn’t it comforting to know that when you are in pain, God’s heart goes out to you? He feels your pain. He cares for you. He comforts you. He is not a cold, distant, helpless Deity but is a loving, compassionate God. Jesus personally invites us to bring our deepest longings, heartaches, and anxieties to Him today, just as men and women did then. Are you convinced that you can go to Him and openly express your deepest needs? If possible, share a situation in your life when you felt the compassion of Christ.

Day Four Study

17. Read Luke 7:11-17. Discuss the results of Jesus' miracle in the days that followed. Did it bring the desired results for Him? See also Isaiah 35:4-6.

18. Jesus’ encounter with the widow of Nain ended up touching many lives. List all those groups and/or persons who were affected by this “divine appointment.”

19. Living Out His Love: Jesus actively did what He had the power to do to alleviate this woman’s suffering. So should we do what we have the power to do to alleviate human suffering, even if it is just bringing a meal, visiting, calling, providing clothes, or just listening and giving counsel and prayer. In 1 Corinthians, we are referred to as “ambassadors” of Christ and of the Gospel. Share a time when you felt God sent you on a “divine appointment” to someone who needed you at that time. You may have the opportunity even today to encourage someone in your life!

Related Topics: Character Study, Love, Women

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