A Reading from the First Book of Kings (17:8-24)
Then the word of the Lord came to [Elijah], saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “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.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah. After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. She then said to Elijah, “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!” But he said to her, “Give me your son.” He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. He cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.” So the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”
Praise the Lord, O my soul! *
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
2 Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, *
for there is no help in them.
3 When they breathe their last, they return to earth, *
and in that day their thoughts perish.
4 Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help! *
whose hope is in the Lord their God;
5 Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them; *
who keeps his promise for ever;
6 Who gives justice to those who are oppressed, *
and food to those who hunger.
7 The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; *
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
8 The Lord loves the righteous;
the Lord cares for the stranger; *
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked.
9 The Lord shall reign for ever, *
your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Galatians (1:11-24)
I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (7:11-17)
[Soon after healing the centurion’s slave, Jesus] went to a city called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
by the Rev. Deacon George Snyder
May the words of my mouth and the meditation in all of our hearts, be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord! You are our strength! You are our redeemer!
In the reading from I Kings today, we hear the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath which dramatizes the miracle of divine compassion. Divine compassion—now that is something that we all need, and we all want.
This story of Elijah begins when Ahab was king of Israel. Before the episode in today’s reading takes place, the prophet Elijah confronts King Ahab. Earlier in I Kings, we hear that Ahab “did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel before him.” God sent Elijah to Ahab with this message. “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” So a drought beset the land of Israel; the food supply was drying up as much as the land. At this point God sends Elijah to a widow in the city of Zaraphath; God tells Elijah that the widow will feed him and care for him. Elijah goes to Zaraphath and finds the widow outside the gates of the city; she is trying to gather enough sticks to make a fire to bake some bread. Elijah asks the widow, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” That is not a big request—except, remember that these people are in the midst of a drought. She is about to bring the water, when he says, almost casually, “bring me some bread.”
This is when the woman makes Elijah aware of how little she has; she says to Elijah, “As the Lord your God lives, 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.” The widow and her son have so little and have had so little for such a long time, that they are about to starve to death. She intends for her son and herself to eat the bread as their last meal, dying as a result of the drought caused by King Ahab’s evil ways.
Elijah responds to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: ‘The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain to the earth.’” God supplied the widow with everything she needed to survive. God gives life back to the widow and her son.
It is not long after this that the son becomes terribly ill and dies. Did her son make it through the famine and the drought just to die? The widow must have railed at Elijah; why should God take her son after He had just restored the two of them to life with the bread that they needed to survive? Elijah takes the dead son into an upper room where Elijah had been staying, and lays him on the prophet’s own bed. Elijah cries out to God, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying by killing her son?” Elijah stretches himself out over the body of the dead boy and prays, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” The scripture tells us that God restored life to the boy, and Elijah takes the child and carries him and gives the child back to his mother.
We see something very similar in today’s Gospel lesson. As Jesus and his entourage enter the city of Nain, a funeral procession was coming out. A nameless man was being carried to his grave, and his nameless mother was following her son’s body. “When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Jesus approached the litter that was being used to carry the dead man, touched it and said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.
My wife Diane and I had been married nineteen years when she died at the age of 37. Our son was 12 years old. Chris and I had a wonderful support—my sister and her husband, friends, and our church family. About six weeks after Diane’s death, I gathered that group—about twenty people–in our home for dinner. Before we ate, we all gathered in a large circle, and Chris and I thanked them for their love and their support. One thing I said to them was that if I could survive the pain of Diane’s death, I knew I could survive anything. I thought about that statement for several weeks afterwards until I decided that I was absolutely wrong. There was something that would be worse: the two mothers in our reading from 1 Kings and the Gospel of Luke face that—the death of a child. I never lost a child—thanks be to God! Maybe some of you have. Even though I have not been through that, I can imagine that a mother’s—or a father’s—grief would be debilitating.
The loss of a child to a widow in biblical times was worse than it would be today. Not only did these two women lose their sons whom they probably loved more than anything on earth, they also could have lost the means of their own survival. When a man died, a brother often married the widow and took ownership of all of the dead man’s property, for a woman could not only property. If there were no brother or the brother did not marry the woman, sometimes the widow would go back to her parents’ house and live with them. Many times, though, the family was so poor that they could not possibly take care of another mouth. Often times, neither of those scenarios were possible for the widow; in that case, she ended up on the streets with no means of supporting herself or any younger children that she might have. With the death of the women’s sons in I Kings and in Luke, this was the situation that the mothers faced. The death of the son could well mean that the mother would die, too.
Society did not jump in and take care of the women—they were worthless; they were of no value to anyone since they had no money. They would have been a burden on anyone who took them in; so, usually no one took them in, and they began to live on the margins of that society. This is why during Jesus’s time and the early Christian era that Jesus and the church paid particularly attention to the widowed and the orphans. These people were on the margins of society—on the margins of life itself; they needed for Jesus and the early Christians to take care of them.
We hear so often in stories about Jesus and his disciples that they are tending to the needs of the sick, the orphaned, and the widowed. The compassion that Jesus felt toward the widow of Nain would not allow Jesus to do anything else. Otherwise, it could mean her death, too. Both God, through Elijah, and Jesus show their compassionate nature when they restore the dead sons to these two widows. In both stories we see the working of a compassionate God who not only restores life to those who have died, but also, by that restoration, goes deeper and prevents even more suffering.
In I Kings, we see a God who is angry enough to punish King Ahab for all the wrongs that he committed against God and against his own people. However, we also see a God who loves his people so much that he restores life and hope to those who have been shunned by society. God can be an angry God, but He also can be a God of the deepest compassion. He is a God who can take the shattered world in which we live and make it whole again; His love for His children is that powerful.
What has happened to us in our lives that causes us to need the compassionate nature of our Lord? It may be the death of a loved one. It may be difficult financial circumstance that throws us for a loop. It may be a separation—a rift between us and someone we care about. It may be poor health that debilitates us. Maybe it is the lack of a job. This list could go on and on. It doesn’t matter what it is. We each have something that bothers us so deeply. What wounds each of our hearts varies from person to person. But, we are all wounded. We are all in need of God’s compassionate nature. We long for that compassion to make us whole.
God understands our needs more than we do ourselves. And, even more importantly, He is there ready to give us that compassion. He stands there when we are in the moments of deepest despair; He is there with us when the flour is ready to run out; He is ready to fill our jugs with oil that will never cease. Psalm 100, which is part of the Morning Prayer service, says,
“Know this: The Lord himself is God;
he himself has made us, and we are his,
we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and call upon his Name.
For the Lord is good;
His mercy is everlasting;
And his faithfulness endures from age to age.
When we are in need of God’s compassionate nature, we need to take ourselves to Him; we need to call His name. No matter what our need is, God will be compassionate. Now, I did not say that He would give us everything we want; but, He will give us what we need. That is what He longs to do for us because He is our God, and we are His people. Being compassionate to his children is His nature. Call upon His name.