(I Kings 17:8-24; Psalm 30:11; Luke 7:11-17)
Have you, or are you now, experiencing a season in life when you feel like the wind has been knocked-out-of-you? Times when Murphy’s Law seems to weigh-down-on you like a ton of bricks: grieving a loss, a sadness which you just can’t seem to shake, or a long stretch of disappointment or illness that just flattens your body ‘n soul? And do you find yourself asking: “Why is this happening to me?!” Or perhaps – to get theological – “Is God punishing me for something I’ve done … to deserve this?!” Or “What can I do to get out from under all this?”
Our Old Testament text for this coming Sunday is the classic story of “The Widow of Zarephath” (I Kings 17: 8-24) – one with whom, to some degree, we can all relate. First, she loses her husband. Now, widowed without any social security system or family to lean on, she just tries to get by – she and her little boy. But then death seems to stalk her down again, as a devastating drought and famine strikes the land. She goes to gather “a couple of sticks” (v. 12b) to prepare her last bit of food. One might call it a “last supper” for her and her young son.
And then this crazy ol’ bearded character, Elijah comes into her life … “man of God” he calls himself (v.18). Don’t worry about food,” he says. “God will take care of you.” And so she tries to scare-him-off (better yet, “gross-him-out”) by having the dogs lick the plates after dinner; but Elijah just smiles – looking for-all-the-world to have something in his mouth.
He moves into her little apartment upstairs. And behold, the food never runs out (v.16). It was so good to have this man around the house that she even starts wearing her favorite dress again, with matching hat and kerchief. However, her little boy grows ill and dies. “But I thought I had God living right upstairs?!” Hmm? … Biting down hard on her handkerchief (see the excoriated face of Picasso’s evocative “Weeping Woman”), she goes native and asks Elijah, with tears just pouring down her face: “Is God punishing me? ‘Man of God,’ why did you do this to me? Did you come here to remind God of my sins and so cause my son’s death?” (v.18).
This was the retributive theology of her day. And yet, deep down … if we’re really honest with ourselves … it’s the QED, quid pro quo thinking of every generation; that is, if something bad happens, God must be punishing us. Right? … Join us this Sunday, for the rest of the story and “hear for yourself” what is meant when the good widow says to Elijah: “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the Word of the LORD in your mouth is truth” (v.24). And Elijah smiled once more – looking for-all-the-world (cf. John 3:16-17) to have something in his mouth. What might this have to do with/for you?
dr. j.r. christopherson