11/8/2015 9:38:13 AM
Healing the Outsiders: A reflection on 1 Kings 17:8-16
Sometimes the lectionary (the 3 year cycle of readings we use for worship) doesn't make sense. Today's first lesson from 1 Kings doesn't really match with the gospel lesson. Professor Rolf Jacobson from Luther Seminary says that this pairing of texts is really just trying to find a text about a widow in the Old Testament to match the widow in the Gospel. And I think he's right. These two stories are related because they have widows but that's about it.
The story in Kings takes place during the time of the prophet Elijah. He's just announced the start of a 3 year drought, running off into the desert because people are mad. God tells him to travel outside Israel, to head into a foreign land, because God has a widow who will take care of him. However, God doesn't let the widow know what's going on and so we have this exchange today. The widow is near the end of her resources but she is actively doing what she can to survive. When Elijah asks for water, she offers hospitality and goes to give him something drink. But before water is given, Elijah asks for bread. She has no bread to give him and, in verse 12, is honest about her current situation. She is near the end of what she has and she's cannot see where her next meal will come from. Elijah makes a promise that God will do something amazing for her. She goes home, makes a little cake out of her meager supplies, and delivers it to Elijah. And, for the next three years, her jar of flour and her oil do not run out. She and her son can now survive and thrive.
But it's at this moment of abundance that something happens. The widow's son dies. This is devastating. Not only did she lose a son but, in her world (generally), husbands and sons were the ones who made money and generated wealth. Without a son, she has no opportunity to receive an income and no security net when she grows old. By bringing her son back to life, Elijah secures not only her present but also her future.
In 1 Kings, Elijah is a miracle worker. But his miracles come from God. And God is doing something that Elijah always struggles with. In these stories, Israel is suffering a famine while God is bringing life and a future to a non-Israelite. God is doing an odd thing by expanding who is part of God's family. And by expanding God's family to include people who aren't like us, God is showing just how big God's family should be.