Proper 5 • Luke 7:11–17 • June 5, 2016
By James Voelz
Introduction and Overview
This well-known pericope is “typical” of Luke’s Gospel in several important ways. Chief is the portrayal of Jesus as a prophetic figure (in something of a contrast to Matthew, where he is more obviously a Yahweh and Moses figure). This theme is initiated and made programmatic for the third Gospel by the critical visit by Jesus to the synagogue in Nazareth in chapter 4, in which he not only describes himself as a prophet (4:24: “No προφήτης is acceptable in his own homeland”), but also goes on to compare himself explicitly to Elijah (4:25–26) and Elisha (4:27). (See also the description of him by the pair on the road to Emmaus [24:19] as a προφήτης mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.) In this text we see that prophetic theme instantiated once more, as Jesus comes to the aid of a widow whose son has died, even as did Elijah in the OT lesson for the day from 1 Kings 17. Hence the people say in our text: προφήτης μέγας ἠγέρθη ἐν ἡμῖν, “A great prophet has arisen among us” (7:16). As a prophet, Jesus’s words are to be heeded—even as the widow of Zarephath says regarding Elijah: “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth” (1 Kgs 17:24). Jesus’s words are critical at both the beginning and the end of his ministry and mission in Luke’s Gospel (see 4:17–21, 24:44–49), and in between (9:35—see also the assessment of him by the crowds in 9:19). See also Peter’s speech in Acts 3:22–23 and the citation of Deuteronomy 18:15–20, which characterizes Jesus as a prophet like Moses, and one whom the people should hear. In this pericope, though, the deeds side is more prominent, with Jesus raising the widow’s son. Both sides of Jesus’s prophetic mission are referenced in the comments by the Emmaus travelers (“deed and word”), as well as in the pericope following the one we are considering. When the disciples of John the Baptist are sent to enquire of Jesus concerning his person, Jesus replies, “Go and announce to John the things that you see and hear: the blind regain their sight; the lame walk; lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are evangelized” (7:22).
Basic Considerations of Language and Meaning
7:11: Καὶ ἐγένετο . . . ἐπορεύθη—“And it came to pass . . . (that) he journeyed.” This construction provides an OT “feel” to the pericope, as it mimics Hebrew and especially LXX verbiage. Note that later in this verse the syntax is V-S (verb-subject) not S-V, which is also a Semitic linguistic characteristic. See also 7;12, 15, 16, 17.
7:12: ἰδοὺ—The use of this interjection, especially in the narrative itself, is also a Semitism. ἐξεκομίζετο—Note the imperfect indicative passive: “was being carried out.” τεθνηκὼς—a masculine, singular, nominative, perfect active participle, describing the state of the young man, that is, “dead.” μονογενὴς—This word, also used in John 1:18 amid great controversy, clearly means “only” here, not “only begotten.” αὐτὴ—This form could be a feminine singular nominative personal pronoun, or, a feminine singular nominative demonstrative pronoun, that is, αὕτη = this woman. The majuscule manuscripts have no accents or breathing marks, so it is impossible to distinguish the two forms with any certainty. Luke often uses the nominative of the personal pronoun in this slightly ungrammatical way, to mean “he, she, it,” though it is then emphatic (see, e.g., 1:17; 8:54). If so, this should be rendered, “And she was a widow.”
7:13: ὁ κύριος —Note the use of κύριος here as a descriptor of Jesus during his earthly ministry by the narrator. (Manuscript D and several others substitute Ἰησοῦς.) Matthew and Mark never exhibit this usage (though it does occur in Mark 16:19 and 20!). This use of κύριος brings Luke into conformity with Acts (see Acts 9:10; 16:14; 18:9; 22:10; 24:15).
7:13: ἐσπλαγχνίσθη—This denotes the deepest, most heartfelt expression of pity and compassion = “bowels of compassion.” μὴ κλαῖε—a negative “present” imperative = “Stop weeping.”
7:14: τῆς σοροῦ—genitive case, because the verb ἅπτομαι “takes” the genitive. ἔστησαν—strong/2nd aorist indicative active of ἵστημι and as such intransitive in meaning = “stood (still)” (cf. Mk 10:49). νεανίσκε—vocative case for direct address (cf. κύριε in 5:12). ἐγέρθητι—aorist imperative passive but intransitive in meaning (see Voelz, Fundamental Greek Grammar, chapter 24, section D) = “arise” (also ἠγέρθη in verse 16).
7:16: ἐδόξαζον—imperfect indicative active, here, inceptive: “began to glorify.” ὅτι (twice)—not “that” or “because” but an indicator of direct discourse. It is virtually quotation marks. ἐπεσκέψατο—a key word that is almost technical for God coming to his people. It is to be seen against the background of the OT as denoting God making his presence known in judgment and in grace, whether in history (e.g., Jer. 29:10) or at the end of history (e.g., Is 26:14; 27:1 [note that translations may render the Hebrew with words like “punish” rather than “visit”]). An important linguistic connection can and should be made to Luke 19:44, where Jesus predicts the fall of Jerusalem because, as he says to the people, “you did not know the due time of your visitation” (τὸν καιρὸν τῆς ἐπισκοπῆς σου), which is a reference to his own presence and actions. With this sentence, the people express with words (i.e., on “Level 1”) what the resurrection of the young man signifies: that in Jesus’s presence and actions, God himself is “visiting” his people in grace.
7:17: ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ Ἰουδαίᾳ—Oddly, though the action of our text occurs in Nain in Galilee, Luke focuses upon the area around Jerusalem with these words, as is his wont (note that in chapter 24 all resurrection appearances of Jesus are in the environs of Jerusalem, not in Galilee).
Theological and Preaching Considerations
While focusing upon Jesus’s compassion for the widow in this passage might seem desirable, focusing instead on Jesus’s prophetic and divine visitation activity is preferable and more far-reaching. In Jesus’s life and ministry, the true voice of Yahweh himself is heard, and the saving eschatological deeds of Yahweh come on the scene. This is confirmed by the following pericope, namely, the question of John the Baptist put to Jesus through the former’s disciples. Note Jesus’s answer in 7:22. These are the very deeds that Isaiah said would come to pass when Yahweh himself comes to his people personally (see especially Is 26:19; 29:18; 35:5–6). Our text conveys this awesome truth—that in the resurrecting by Jesus of the young man at Nain, the eschatological reign and rule of God broke into our world—into history. Amazing! We might say that it broke in proleptically, that is, ahead of time, before the full end/consummation of all things = the age to come. Furthermore, it broke in as a kind of foretaste; that is, not all the dead were raised. (Indeed, the young man died again, even as did Lazarus [Jn 11] and Jairus’s daughter [Mk 5], two other foretastes). Jesus himself rose triumphant from the grave on Easter morning, which was also a proleptic manifestation of the eschatological reign and rule of God, but now as a full manifestation of the age to come, that is, he arose never to die again. And we are guaranteed to participate in that fullness, we who have been baptized into Christ and have put on Christ (Gal 3:27). In the resurrection of the young man at Nain and in our Lord’s resurrection, then, our own resurrection at the full implementation of the age to come is assured.
(For further discussion of the proleptic coming of the eschatological reign and rule of God in the person, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ, see Voelz, What Does This Mean?: Principles of Biblical Interpretation in the Post-Modern World, Addendum 11–B.)