Rev Peter Lockhart
The readings today from 1 Kings and from Luke 7 lead us into hearing about 2 nameless widows who
So here we have this widow of Zarephath collecting sticks for her fire when Elijah the prophet appears asking for water. Now Elijah had been sent by God to this widow and trusting in God’s word he approaches her for help. The woman responds to his initial request with grace and goes to get water but before she gets fare Elijah asks for bread as well.
It is at this point the true depths of her situation are revealed as she informs Elijah that not only does she not have bread but that she had been collecting would to prepare the last her food for a final meal for her and her son after which she expected to die. Elijah reassures her that the Lord would provide and that neither the jar of meal or of oil would be emptied but would not fail until the rains came again.
Regardless of what the woman believed she obeyed the prophet’s words and used what she probably thought was the last of her food to make a meal for Elijah. The woman’s jars do not empty and do not fail and this is undoubtedly a miracle. God provides.
If we were to keep reading we would find out that despite God’s provision the woman’s son dies. She questions the prophet as to what she has done to deserve this at which time Elijah takes the boy and prays “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” God responds by raising her son from the dead at which point the woman goes on to declare that she now knows that Elijah is truly a prophet and the word of the Lord in his mouth is truth.
As I thought about this tale of the widow from Zarephath there were a number of lessons that came through that I believed were worthy of note.
First, that God’s gracious acts extend beyond the community of faith, the Israelites, to include even those who might be identified as God’s enemies.
Second, that God’s grace can be enacted by such outsiders and even those who have the least to offer.
And third, that both Elijah and the widow show some level of trust in the word of the Lord that comes to them even though they have every reason to doubt.
This brings me to say something about the widow from Nain. We have jumped ahead in history to Jesus time. And we hear about this widow as she accompanies the funeral board of her son. This woman is in a dire predicament not only has she lost her husband but now her son is dead as well. Her son no doubt represented the promise of a future for her.
There are two processions occurring: the funeral procession leaving the town; and the procession of Jesus and his followers entering the town. Jesus followers would have been on a high. He had just healed a centurion’s slave. This was another demonstration of God’s concern for those outside the community of faith. So those following Jesus would have had a sense of expectation and even joy.
As the two processions come together the centre of the story is punctuated by Jesus response, “When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her.” Here is the heart of the story Jesus compassion, our Lord’s compassion - God’s compassion for those who suffer.
The woman did not seek Jesus’ help; she did pray or beg; nothing is said of her faith. Jesus responds to her because he has compassion for her - his heart goes out to her. This is the essence of God’s grace as Jesus heart goes out to the one who is suffering. Jesus raises the son from the dead not so that he can have eternal life but for the sake of the woman.
Once again there are clear lessons from the story but at the heart of the story is God’s heart, Jesus compassion for those in need. God’s grace comes in times of need without conditions and expectations but with love.
The two widows find themselves as recipients of God’s grace, non identities by the lack of their naming their place in scripture is elevated to being people who are cared for by God and moreover in the case of the woman from Zarephath can be agents of God’s grace.
These two stories should challenge any sense of piety or security in self righteousness that we have as they remind us that God’s grace is truly an unconditional thing and that whilst we might celebrate as God’s community of faith God’s love extend far beyond the bounds that we may wish to draw around things. For example if we were to think of whom we might consider outsiders and even enemies the notion that God is at work in them and through them might come as something as a surprise to us.
Or, if we were to consider those who suffer in the world making conditions on our aid of others may in fact be counter to the gospel.
I want to give you the opportunity to reflect a little more on what God might be saying to you this morning about grace and our response to God’s love.
Faith in Action
A. Grace is often encountered in surprising places; amidst people who we might consider strangers and even enemies or in moments of tumultuous moments of life, like a funeral procession.
Where or when have you encountered a glimpse of God’s grace in place or time that was unexpected?
B. God’s grace is at work in people who are not part of the community of faith.
Where do you see God’s grace at work in peoples who are not Christian?
C. God’s grace is worked through people who are not necessarily part of the community of faith.
Who outside the church has challenged you to grow in your faith?
D. God’s compassion for those who are suffering comes without condition.
Who is God calling you to help without condition?
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