Conrad Gempf: 5th Sparrow

October 2003
Two parades
Previous 5th Sparrows

Comment on this column LAST WEEK, I HAPPENED TO LOOK at Luke 7, the story of the Widow of Nain and her dead son, and I noticed two things I'd never noticed before. I'm not sure that the first one means anything, but I found it interesting. It's this: if the widow had been a widower, the language of the story would have been seen throughout the history of the church as a heck of a lot more significant than they are.

Let me change the gender of a few verses and you'll see what I mean: "Behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his father..." (verse 12) "And the dead man sat up and began to speak. And he was given back to his father" (verse 15).

If that mother had been a father, we would certainly have taken this story to be a coded version of Jesus' own death, resurrection and ascension to the Father. Isn't it fascinating that even though we don't actually believe that God is literally male (or female), the fact that the widow of Nain is female means that we've never thought about the story that way?

THE SECOND THING I NOTICED is more likely to be built into the story. I've often thought of this narrative in terms of Jesus, the clean one, approaching and touching the unclean coffin. But the narrator seems to go out of his way to talk not in terms of individuals but in terms of two large crowds.

Jesus is said in verse 11 to be followed not only by his disciples but accompanied by a large multitude. Then in the next verse, it isn't just a few mourners we're told of but a sizeable crowd. We're talking about two parades here: one parade is about death, the other one is all about Jesus.

And just as Jesus "should" have been rendered unclean by touching the coffin, but instead infects the dead person with his life, so also Jesus' parade should have become mourners out of respect for the group they encounter. Instead they were all – both crowds – gripped with awe and all began glorifying God.

Luke tells that they said two things – one for each parade? – "A great prophet has arisen among us" and "God has visited his people." And these look to me suspiciously like the two answers to Jesus' monumental questions in Luke 9: Who do people say that I am? (to which the answer is a prophet) and Who do you say that I am? (to which the later answer is Messiah).

I haven't found any of the commentaries that pick up on these two parades in this way. My colleagues think it's worth an article. But I think it'd make an even better children's book!

Dr Conrad Gempf is a lecturer in New Testament at London Bible College. He also writes for and edits the monthly webzine there.

Top | Columns | SOF Home

© Ship of Fools 2003