Sunday, November 8, 2009


Sunday’s 1st reading (I Kings 17:10-16) offers us an image of Elijah’s encounter with a widow that is filled with interesting contrasts, ironies and lessons. They are all worth noting.

Let’s start with a basic one—the widow is from a town in Sidon, the home-country of Queen Jezebel, the prophet Elijah’s deadly enemy. Would it not make sense that the widow would think that “the enemy of my Friend is my enemy”? Would not Elijah have been expected to think “The friend of my Enemy is my enemy”? Yet he asks (humbly, in fact, as the Hebrew shows), and she graciously responds, honoring the ancient standards of hospitality. She might have been expected to tell Elijah what the Samaritan woman first told Jesus (John 4:9)—“How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” She doesn’t; she’s far more akin to the “Good Samaritan” that Jesus describes in His parable (Luke 10:30-37).
[Just a footnote of vocabulary: the Greek word zenos, which gives us a root for the word ‘zenophobia,’ or ‘fear/loathing of strangers,’ is also able to be translated as guest.]
She is in fact incredibly gracious: she admits that Elijah’s God is not hers—“As the LORD, your God, lives…” (I Kings 17:12). Yet she listens and obeys. More than this, she satisfies Elijah’s needs before she meets those of her son and herself. As one scholar put it, she responds to the demands of hospitality even in the face of famine. She is less an example of poverty (though she is this, as well) as she is a witness to faithful trust.

The Elijah story is paralleled today with the Gospel account of the poor widow. It’s an obvious and splendid comparison, but I think I might have reached for a different one: a comparison with Mary at the Annunciation. Let’s think about it.
Elijah’s words to the widow (“Fear not”—I Kings 17:13) are the words of angelic annunciations throughout the Scriptures. They are the words of Gabriel to Mary (Luke 1:30). In both of these cases, women regarded as defenseless (one a widow, the other unmarried, even if engaged) acted upon a strange messenger who proclaimed even stranger tidings to them; they both trusted, and God’s action was revealed through them both—“She was able to eat for a year, and [Elijah] and her son as well…” (I Kings 17:15); “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:45).

How is our faith-life tested? Can we embrace a call to fidelity and trust to the same degree as Mary or the widow of Zeraphath? If not, to what degree can we embrace that kind of response? What might we be able to accomplish, after all, with a couple of dry sticks and a handful of flour, if we were willing to share? She and her son did not die, after all: as the LORD our God lives, so they lived.

I want to live—is it worth a handful of flour and a few drops of oil to me? Can I give a cup of cold water to someone because of being a disciple (Matthew 10:42)?

Lesson to be learned--perhaps the "friend of my Enemy" might still be my friend?

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