Traffic Jam

An incident in Jesus’ ministry is reported uniquely and briefly in the Gospel of Luke:

Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country. (Luke 7:11-17 ESV)

It is one of three passages in the Gospels in which Jesus previewed his resurrection power by raising someone from the dead (the others were Lazarus, recorded at length in John 11 and a preteen girl brought back in Mark 5.  In the Book of Acts Jesus’ apostles use his name and power to raise the dead as well ).*

solomonic gate
Solomonic gates excavated at Beer Sheva and Dan, diagrammed by Biblical Archaeological Society

Part of the power of Luke’s description is a traffic jam.  The text mentions a gate, indicating a walled city.  For defensive purposes, such cities often featured a “Solomonic gate” which constricted movement and forced attackers to squeeze through in small numbers under flank attacks from the defenders.

 

Exiting through this gate is a procession of death.  The residents of Nain are trekking out to bury a dead body.  This procession exudes not only the sadness of death, but the affliction of life as a widow has lost her only son and, with no male to establish her standing and well being in the culture, faces impoverishment and the real risk of being exploited in order to survive.

Coming the other way is a procession of life.  Jesus is heading toward the gate, accompanied by a great crowd inspired by his recent preaching and awed by his power to heal.

The opposing traffic meets in a jam near the gate. One group is going to have to give way.

Jesus wades into the funeral procession, going against traffic, and seeks to comfort the widow.  Then he stops the group entirely, halting the “hearse” and, with a word, restoring life to the dead man.  With both processions stuck, the only movement is Jesus bringing the son back to his mother, restoring not just physical life but a family’s hope for the future.

The two processions now unite in an outburst of praise to God, and, we assume, join in the same direction into the city to celebrate the miracle and hear the teaching of the one who ended the traffic jam by asserting life against death.

May Jesus come against the procession of sins, errant thoughts, wounded emotions, damaging situations, spiritual foes and all other forces that would waddle you toward eternal death.  May His compassion stop the traffic and turn it all around, parading you to a joyous welcome in the heavenly city.

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* The Prophet Elijah prefigured Jesus’ ministry and resurrection hope in a miracle with affinities to what happened in Nain.

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