A fella from Alaska was out deer hunting when a large grizzly bear charged him from about 50 yards away. The guy emptied his 7mm Magnum semi-automatic rifle into the bear and it dropped a few feet from him. The big bear was still alive so he reloaded and shot it several more times. The bear was just over 1,600 pounds. It stood 12′ 6′ high at the shoulder, 14′ to the top of his head. At the time, it was the largest grizzly bear ever recorded in the world.
Of course, the Alaska Fish and Wildlife Commission did not allow him keep it as a trophy, but the bear was stuffed and mounted, and placed on display at the Anchorage airport to remind tourists of the risks involved when in the wild. Based on the contents of the bears stomach, the Fish and Wildlife Commission established the bear had killed at least two humans in the 72 hours before it was killed including a missing hiker.
The US Forest Service, backtracking from where the bear had originated, found the hiker’s 38-caliber pistol emptied. Not far from the pistol were the remains of the hiker. The other body had not been found. Although the hiker fired six shots and managed to hit the grizzly with four shots (the Service ultimately found four 38 caliber slugs along with twelve 7mm slugs inside the bear’s dead body), it only wounded the bear and probably angered it immensely. The bear killed the hiker an estimated two days prior to the bear’s own death by the gun of the hunter.
Think about this: the bear would look you in the eye when it walked on all fours! If you are an average size man; You would be level with the bear’s navel when he stood upright. This particular bear, standing on its hind legs, could walk up to an average single story house and look over the roof, or walk up to a two story house and look in the bedroom window.
Take a moment and consider the worst day of your life or maybe the worst thing you’ve ever encountered or perhaps the most traumatic and difficult thing you have ever experienced. Put another way, think of the time that this 14 foot grizzly bear walked into your life. Got it? Question: Did you live through it? Maybe you’re a bit beat up and bruised with a few good scars to prove the encounter, but did you survive? If you say, “No” and are sitting here, then the zombie apocalypse is upon us; otherwise, the answer is, “Yes.” Yes. You survived. You lived. The grizzly did not eat you. As the saying goes, “So far, you’ve survived 100% of your worst days.”
In our Gospel reading, Jesus and his disciples have come to the village of Nain. There, as they are entering the city gates, they encounter a funeral procession. A young man has died, leaving behind his widowed mother. There is much weeping as the family and friends take the dead boy to the place of burial. Jesus goes to the boy’s mother and says to her, “Don’t cry.” Then, approaching the gurney/bier that the boy was being carried on, Jesus reached out and touched it and those carrying him stopped.
In the eyes of those who witnessed this, Jesus has just sinned. He is unclean. From the Mosaic Law: Numbers 19:11 – “Those who touch the dead body of any human being shall be unclean seven days.” And again in verse 16 – “Whoever in the open field touches one who has been killed by a sword, or who has died naturally, or a human bone, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days.” To touch the body, the bier, even those carrying the bier, made a person unclean. Jesus has touched death and is considered unclean.
Jesus then does something that seems a bit ridiculous: he speaks to the dead boy and says, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” What happened? “The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” And the crowd goes wild.
A day or so before these events, Jesus was in Capernaum. As he was going through the city, a Roman commander – centurion – had heard of the miracles of Jesus and so sent the religious leaders to Jesus to have him come and heal a highly favored slave. Jesus agreed, but as he was going the centurion sent a friend to Jesus to tell him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, `Go,’ and he goes, and to another, `Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, `Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Not even among the Jews have I found such faith. In this instance, it was the faith of the centurion that healed the favored slave, but what evidence do we have of faith in Nain where the boy has died? Has there been some confession of faith, belief that Jesus is God and that through faith in Him, God will bring healing? No.
The grizzly walked into this young man’s life, he had the worst day of his life, but he did not survive. There is no indication that the mother knew who Jesus was, just some stranger walking up to her and while in her deepest grief telling her not to cry. What nonsense is that? Yet, breaking the Law, Jesus reached out and touched death. Not only that, he spoke to death and in doing so, he destroyed death.
There are so many lessons in this text. We can see the Virgin Mary in the young man’s mother. She too was a widow that had to bury her son. We can see the despair the disciples would experience at the death of Jesus in the grief of the crowd. But most importantly, we can see life entering in where there was only death. We can see the resurrection of Jesus in the young man as he rises and begins to speak. But more importantly – and I pray you never get tired of me talking about it – we can see the love of God.
With the centurion in Capernaum, we witness a great example of faith, but here – in Nain – Jesus acts out of compassion and love. As the Scripture said, “When the Lord saw her—the boy’s mother—he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’” Out of compassion, love, Jesus acted and in that love is our greatest hope.
A couple married for 15 years began having more than the usual disagreements. They wanted to make their marriage work and agreed on an idea the wife had. For one month they planned to drop a note into a “Fault” box. The notes would provide a place to let the other know about daily irritations. The wife was diligent in her efforts and approach: “leaving the jelly top off the jar,” “wet towels on the shower floor,” “dirty socks not in hamper,” on and on until the end of the month. After dinner, at the end of the month, they exchanged boxes. The husband reflected on what he had done wrong. Then the wife opened her box and began reading. They were all the same, the message on each slip was, “I love you!”
I can look at my own life and see the days that the grizzly showed up. Some of those days were just bad days while others were because of my own doing. The latter were days that I should have rightly been accused over and over again. Days where I should have been condemned, but Jesus simply said, “I love you.”
This past week while we were at Nashotah, we had the opportunity to hear Bishop Harold Miller, Bishop of Down & Dromore of the Church of Ireland preach. He told the story of one of the great biblical scholars coming to give a lecture and how excited the crowd was to hear the man speak. The day arrived and the auditorium was packed. The scholar took the stage to great applause. When the crowd settled down, the man began to speak. He said, “Jesus loves you. Jesus loves you. Jesus loves you. Jesus loves you.” One hundred times he said, “Jesus loves you.” At first there were odd glances, followed by uncomfortable fidgeting; however, when the scholar was done, there wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd. After all, he had shared with them the greatest biblical truths.
Whether because of your own doing or not, the grizzly is going to come calling. It may make for the worst day of your life. Yet even in death, Jesus will reach out, touch death, and destroy it. Jesus will bring life. Not because of the greatness or smallness of your faith, but because of His love for you.
Let us pray: Jesus loves you. Jesus loves you. Jesus loves you. Jesus loves you. Jesus loves you. Jesus loves you. Jesus loves you. Jesus loves you. Amen.