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1 Kings 17:8-16

Trusting Widows and Strangers

Our lectionary passages this week keep the widow and the stranger before us as the “heroes” while the wordy religious elite are looked down upon. Naomi and Ruth are both widows (and Ruth is a Moabite stranger). Psalm 146: 9 reminds us that Yahweh watches over the strangers and upholds the orphans and widows. Our epistle reading contrasts the work of Jesus with the work of religion, and our Gospel passage shows Jesus warning people about the religious elite who “devour widows.” He then points to the impoverished widow who “gives everything she has.” Why this emphasis? Could it be that this week’s passages want to remind us that things are not always what they seem?

Our 2nd reading from the Hebrew Scriptures takes us to Zarephath. The drought that God brought to the land through the words of Elijah is making itself felt. Elijah’s own stream has gone dry and the ravens are no longer bringing him food. He is commanded to make his way out of Ahab and Jezebel’s territory. Zarephath is just “over the border” in Sidon’s territory. There, God promises he will be cared for by a widow.

Widows were not often wealthy individuals, and strange Israelites wandering out of the wilderness were not often welcomed guests. If I were Elijah, I’m sure I would be asking why I couldn’t be sent to someone who was of my faith and could guarantee nourishment. Instead Elijah is asked once againto trust in God’s generosity rather than his own perception of the circumstances.

When he arrives, he talks to the first widow that he sees. She is picking up fuel for a small fire. She sees the stranger making his way towards town and somehow knows he is an Israelite (border town people often have ways of identifying the “other”). When he makes his request, she tells him that even “Yahweh YOUR God knows that I don’t have enough for you and us.” She was making their last meal.

Elijah is not swayed from his trust of the stranger (this widow). He invites her to “Fear not” but to trust in God’s generosity; and asks her to make him a small loaf of bread before making something for herself and her son. He promises that the meal and oil will not run out. He is trusting her and trusting in God’s generosity. Will she join him? Will she, too, trust the stranger and the generous God?

She does. And just as Elijah trusted the stranger and the generous God, the widow finds the stranger and the generous God to be faithful. Mutual trust (in God and the stranger) lead to mutual benefit (for Elijah, the widow, and her son) and all for God’s glory. Check out this site if you’re looking for a professional help. All the human beings in this text have to trust in both the generous God and the stranger God has placed in their path. In fact, in order to receive the blessing of the generous God they have to act by trusting the stranger right in front of them.

Are we ready for this teaching?

I have found that many, if not all, of God’s blessings come through trusting God’s generosity to come through human beings – many of whom were strangers at first. I have also seen that many of God’s blessing for strangers come when I have trusted in God’s generosity and given to them – even out of my poverty. When we trust neither the stranger, nor God’s generosity (even when couched in religious language), we end up fulfilling Jesus’ words in our gospel passage: devouring widow’s houses while keeping up appearances with long prayers.

In a day and age when we find it extremely difficult to trust the stranger – where we are often overcome by the scarcity mentality that says, “There is not enough for us and them” – this text challenges us to show our trust in God’s generosity by trusting the stranger in our path. Trusting God’s generosity instead of the culture of scarcity enables us to bless others. Knowing our own poverty (humanity) and trusting God’s generosity enables us to receive the blessing that comes to us in and through the stranger.

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.