Jan Johnson
Jan Johnson

WisBits Archive

December 2008


While I have to push myself to do something compassionate—make dinner for an ailing friend, give away frequent flyer miles, or spend a weekend doing a retreat in prison ministry--compassion flowed out of Jesus as naturally as water runs downhill. It was deeply rooted in who he was (and is).

In fact, it looks as if Jesus couldn’t stop himself from being compassionate. He was so “moved with compassion” that he interrupted—actually, disrupted—a funeral (Luke 7:11-17, v. 13 NRSV). When was the last time you saw someone talk to a corpse? Perhaps only in a movie? Watch him do it.    

Picture Jesus walking into the small Galilean town of Nain. As he and his crowd of followers approach the town gate, they find themselves in the middle of a funeral as the corpse is being carried out: “the only son of his mother, and she was a widow” (v. 12). The widow’s predicament of having no male next of kin means she was left at the mercy of her relatives.  Would they take her in (and perhaps treat her like a slave)? If not, women in her situation became beggars or prostitutes to survive. That answers our question about why Jesus barges into the situation unasked. With many of Jesus’ healings, people asked for help, but not this time.

“Moved with compassion” by her destitution, Jesus immediately tells her, “Don’t cry!” Then he turns to the dead young man, touches the basket-like coffin and talks to him! This strikes me as the oddest thing Jesus ever did.

What’s even odder is that the dead man sits up and talks to Jesus. We don’t know what they say to each other nor what the mother says when Jesus scoops the young man up out of his basket-coffin and hands him to his mother. Others’ responses are recorded: they are filled with awe and they praise God. 

What do the people of Nazareth (only four miles away) think? Shortly before this incident, they attempted to throw Jesus off a cliff. Are they jealous because he did this miracle in Nain instead of Nazareth?

If Jesus walked into the room right now, how might he be moved with compassion for you? If Jesus lived on your street and in your town, how might be moved with compassion for the people around him? If Jesus read the Internet news right now, what would move him so deeply he would act?

Because I need more compassion in my soul’s formation, I’ve had to follow Jesus’ lead in the regular practice of service. For years, this has meant volunteering weekly at a drop-in center for the homeless. There I have washed clothes covered with mud, wiped up urine, held a woman just before she died and accidentally splashed bleach on my favorite shorts. But it’s there that this scene from Jesus’ life has become as real to me as the knuckles on my fingers. It’s where I get to walk alongside him. 

Invitation to the Jesus LifeThis is an excerpt from chapter 6 of Invitation to the Jesus LifeEach chapter helps you live in a scene from Jesus’ life and offers specific practices that would help a person receive that quality of Jesus into themselves. 

ANNOUNCEMENT:  Hope International University is accepting students in my class, Christians and Social Justice (and auditors at a very economical price). It is held on January 11-12, 2009 in Corona near the Ontario airport. See the bottom of the calendar page for a full description of it and links for registration.

Grace and peace,
Jan Johnson




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