Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer, Amen.
Today’s readings from the Revised Common Lectionary pair two stories of raising people to new life: the raising of a deathly sick child of a foreigner by Elijah and the raising of a dead man just outside the town of Nain by Jesus. Today I would invite you to let the story from our Hebrew Scriptures speak to you in some way.
Listen, and see if you can find yourself in it. Elijah is commanded to stay with a foreign widow. In utter hopelessness and poverty, she is gathering fuel for her last fire, that she and her son may eat their last meal, then starve to death. Elijah, who has been hiding out in the wilderness up to this point, no doubt looks the part of a wild man as he demands water, then food and a place to stay for a while. Is it any wonder she responds, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”
Never the less, Elijah demands and she obeys. I only wonder what she might have been thinking as she scurried to do his bidding: “Crazy foreign prophet – still, I better play along; who knows what he – or his God – might do! I would have preferred to die starving with my son than with a foreign guest in my house. He says the jar of meal and jug of oil won’t dry up until it finally rains again? Humph! Does he know how long this drought has been going on?”
Imagine with me for a moment that this story is a metaphor. Who is the widow? Who is the son? What is it that you might be starving for in your life? To whom do you turn when you reach points in your life that are spiritually drought-like? Have you found yourself at rock bottom or nearing a metaphorical death? How might God speak to you to enable you to turn your life around? Hold those thoughts in your mind as the story continues to unfold:
Miraculously, the widow’s provisions remain full. Some time later her son becomes ill to the point of “no breath,” as it says in Hebrew. I can only imagine she is sick of playing hostess to the wild man from Israel. Perhaps she has forgotten all that Elijah’s God has given her – for now she boldly approaches him to demand accounting for her son’s condition: “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” (I Kings 17:18)
Once again that crazy wild man makes demands. He demands her only son and actually takes him from her bosom and disappears upstairs. There, Elijah has the audacity to pray to the LORD, demanding an accounting. Then he stretches out over the boy, and demands in prayer: “O LORD my God, let this child’s life come into him again!” (I Kings 17:21) Miraculously, the boy revives. Then Elijah brings him back downstairs and presents him to his mother. Listen to her response: “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.” (I Kings 17:24)
Listen to that again: “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.” She changed her language from, “The Lord your God” from earlier to a statement of confession: “The word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.”
Looking more closely at the language being spoken in Elijah’s story, we find echoes from other stories as well.
The Hebrew “Now I know [‘atah zeh yada’ti] that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth” (v. 24), echoes the confession of another outsider to Israel, Jethro of Midian, when he saw God had redeemed Israel from slavery: “Now I know [‘atah yada’ti] that the Lord is greater than all gods, because he delivered the people from the Egyptians.” (Exod. 18:11)
Commentator Carolyn J. Sharp interprets these parallel statements to intimate God’s grand compassion to those who, “dare to host the prophetic word.” She goes on to say, “ Most striking in [Elijah’s] story is not the [revival] of the boy but the intimacy of prophetic presence. The Israelite wild man dwells with the Sidonian widow in abject poverty, not just briefly but for years. His choice to be present with her shows us how we may embody the prophetic word in our own lives: in intimate solidarity with those at risk.”
What this means for sound biblical interpretation is a stark theological choice. It means there is “nothing stronger than the wild compassion of God. In welcoming the prophet, we learn that God’s power is among us not for judgment but for life” (my emphasis).
I cannot leave the story of Elijah without making reference to the fact that he represents the entirety of the prophets with his appearance on the Mount of Transfiguration. When Elijah, along with Moses, who represents all the Law, meets with Jesus, all Christ’s glory is briefly revealed to Peter, James, and John. In describing that pivotal moment for our Judeo-Christian journey of faith, the Transfiguration (recounted in all three synoptic Gospels) proclaims for us that Jesus is the fulfillment of both Mosaic law and the prophets who waited in hope for the Messiah who was to come.
What about your own story? Have you found a part of your own story in God’s story? What are the events and life circumstances that have shaped you most profoundly? Where among biblical characters have you found yourself named, understood, and received? How do you foster a reverent awareness that God is indeed authoring your own life?
In the event that you are still searching for that answer, let me offer an invitation: Come, taste and see that the LORD is good. Amen? May it be so.
Questions for Reflection and Daily Prayers offered by Feasting on the Word Worship Companion:
Psalm 146 describes God’s care for widows and orphans, an important biblical theme. I Kings 17:17-24 and Luke 7:11-17 tell how the son of a widow is restored to life by the power of God. How does the church show God’s favor to those who are most vulnerable? How do we proclaim the hope of the resurrection to those who have been touched by death?
Lord, as I awake to the light of this day may I reflect your light in every moment and speak forth your praise with every breath. Amen.
Lord, when I feel orphaned, motherless, fatherless, or simply less, I am grateful that you hold me close. Amen.
 Sharp, Carolyn J. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16).
 Barton, Ruth Haley. Life Together in Christ; Experiencing Transformation In Community InterVarsity Press. Downers Grove, IL. Copyright 2014.