November 1, 2020
1 Kings 17: 1-24
Elijah served as prophet during a time of peace and prosperity in Israel.
Under King Ahab, the nation was a military and economic force. The royal house had brought a level of comfort to the people … but, as it turns out, the prosperity masked some serious problems … especially spiritual ones.
During Ahab’s reign, the people began worshiping other gods … especially Baal, whose idols were becoming a common sight …
Just before today’s passage, Ahab married a Sidonian woman, Jezebel. He erected an altar for Baal in Samaria and constructed a sacred pole to this other god.
Under Ahab’s rule the people even began violently persecuting those who did remain faithful to God.
As well, it wasn’t a shared prosperity … policies that oppressed the less-fortunate members of the community were enacted and promoted. The wealthy and well-connected were taken care of … the poor… well … not so much.
Responsibility for these circumstances fell squarely on King Ahab
In the words of the scripture writer: “Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him.”
Elijah did what prophets are called to do … speak to the injustice … to speak truth to power and remind the king and the people of God’s expectations.
Elijah tells Ahab that God is not happy with the circumstances created by the king’s unfaithfulness and … as punishment … there won’t be any “dew or rain” unless God is the one to bring them.
In a later passage, Elijah is called a “troubler of Israel.”
Well … the truth can be troubling for some.
Today’s story from 1 Kings takes place outside the sphere of royal influence … out on the margins of society … where God’s promise is made known among the vulnerable and the shunned.
During the early portion of the drought, God instructs Elijah to leave Gilead and travel some 50 kilometres from Samaria and hide in a wadi on the other side of the Jordan River.
A wadi is a small valley in a desert. They contain seasonal streams … ones that flow after heavy rains. While he is there, Elijah was fed by ravens … scavengers that God has forbidden the people to eat.
The birds help Elijah remain in relative safety in the wadi.
As the drought worsens and the stream dries up, God instructs Elijah to head for Zarephath … a journey of some 100 kilometres. There, God says, the prophet is to seek out a widow and get some sustenance … God says that the woman has already commanded to feed Elijah.
Arriving at Zarephath, Elijah spots a woman gathering wood at the gate of the city and calls her to bring him some water. As she heads off to get the water, Elijah adds … and could you get me some bread too.
The request catches the widow by surprise … she and her son are at the end of their rope.
At the time, a widow was one of the most vulnerable members of society … often relying on the charity of the community to survive. They are the ones who needed care, yet she has been instructed to help a stranger.
The woman tells Elijah that they only have a small amount of oil and flour … just enough for one final meal.
The prophet is insistent and tells the widow … “Do not be afraid.”
Despite the scarcity in her life and in the world around her, the woman gives Elijah food … and, in turn, experiences the abundance her faith has brought her … the oil and flour jars remain full during the remainder of the drought.
I have to wonder about the containers that were always full … the oil and the food that never diminished while Elijah stayed with the widow.
Did the woman share the bounty with people outside her household … bringing them sustenance at a time of distress?
Did she share the gift she had received through her faithful adherence to God’s instructions – God’s call to feed and shelter a stranger?
Scholar Sara Koenig says that in today’s reading Elijah is living on the edge of trust … following God’s word.
At any moment, the stream could dry up … the birds could fly away .. the jug of oil could become empty and if they do … survival becomes a bit iffy. But Elijah trusts God to provide if that were to ever happen.
And the same is true of the widow … someone who is among the disenfranchised of the world … living on the edge of trust that God’s promise extends to her, as well.
Today, we heard a story of inclusion.
It’s a story of God’s actions in the margins … of God being present … providing nourishment … wherever faith and faith-filled acts are found.
It’s a story of being sustained and experiencing new life by God’s promise.
Elijah’s journey through the outer reaches of the region is not just aimed at keeping the prophet safe from Ahab’s and his supporters’ anger … it is a journey of faith … following God’s call and trusting that God will remain active in his life and in the life of the world even at a time when its unfaithful actions led God to withhold life-giving water.
This passage calls us to reflect upon our own faith … our trust in a loving God whose abundance is ever-present … our willingness to head to the wadi and simply wait.
Like the widow … are we agents of grace as we travel through the community … sharing God’s love unconditionally even if the call takes us into unfamiliar territory or to rely on unfamiliar people to sustain us?
It is All Saints Sunday … a time when we recall the saints in our lives and … remember the examples life-affirming faith and trust that they offered.
It is a time when we … like the widow … can recognize God’s loving, caring presence in our lives through these recollections and bear witness to the promise made known by our saints in those moments.