The readings for Sunday, March 13, 2016:
1 Kings 17:1-16
This week's reading makes me think of sustenance and how and where we find it--an issue which is always timely, although we're not always as trusting as the prophet Elijah.
As a good prophet would do, Elijah trusts God, and God provides through unusual vectors. Ravens deliver bread and meat, and this plan goes well until Elijah's stream dries up.
God's next plan must have seemed even more impossible. God tells Elijah to go to a more distant town and to rely on the hospitality of a widow.
To modern ears, this idea might not seem strange, but throughout the Bible, widows are living on the narrowest of margins, the most dispossessed even in the best of times. Indeed, she's planning to eat the last of her food and die. But the widow shares what she has and receives abundance. The meal and oil do not run out. The widow, so recently prepared to eat a last meal and die with her son, finds herself fed.
And if you read the rest of the chapter, you discover that because of the widow's hospitality, Elijah is there to save her son when he dies of illness. Once again, we see God providing a way when it looks like none can be found. And once again, we see God operating in ways that we might not expect.
In this passage, God relies on outcasts to deliver sustenance: ravens, a widow, and Elijah himself. Again, here, we see the value of hospitality. The widow could have refused to take Elijah in. But by sharing the little that they had, they find that they have more than they did when they started.
We also see another example of faith rewarded. Elijah obeys God; he doesn't try to control God. He doesn't say, "Ick. I'm not eating food that's been in a raven's beak." He doesn't decide to leave the poorest of the poor (the widow) alone and demand food from a wealthier patron. He holds fast to God's vision.
And in the end of the chapter, we see Elijah demanding more from God. Elijah pleads with God to save the son, and God does it. Many a theologian will tell us that if we believe in a free-will world, that God cannot intervene in human lives unless we ask.
This will not be the last time that we will see Biblical people demanding that God act in a more just way. And the good news of this story is that this cry for justice is rewarded with new life. Unlike other ancient religions, no one has to be struck down for daring to call on God to act justly.
We, too, live in a land that needs more justice. We, too, see that we inhabit a wrecked planet with abundance for a few, and difficulty for the rest. But the Old Testament passage promises us that God will sustain us.