Saturday, March 21, 2009

Elijah and the Widow

Elijah is the greatest prophet.

In fact, at the Transfiguration, Elijah appeared with Our Lord, as did Moses. Moses represented the Law; Elijah represented the Prophets. And Our Lord was revealed at the Transfiguration as the fulfillment of both the Law and the Prophets.

Elijah was a larger-than-life kind of guy. He went toe-to-toe with the evil King Ahab and his even more depraved wife, Jezebel. He told them that God was angry with them for worshipping foreign Gods. “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, whom I serve, during these years there shall be no dew or rain except at my word.”

And so it did not rain. For years and years!

At first, God sent Elijah off to a brook and commanded the ravens to bring him bread and meat in the morning and the evening. But eventually, even the stream dried up.

Elijah followed the Spirit’s leading to Zarephath, where he met a widow and her son. Elijah asked the widow for something to drink and some bread to eat.

Sir, I have only enough oil and flower to make one small loaf of bread. Before you arrived, I planned to take that handful of flour and little portion of oil, bake it, share it with my son, and then we can die together.

But Elijah told her not to be afraid. God wouldl take care of them both, if she would take care of him. The widow could have told the prophet to leave. She could have clung to her last bit of food, perhaps even keeping secret the fact that she had any supplies at all. Instead, she did as the stranger said.

The handful of flour and little portion of oil lasted a year, and the three did not go hungry.

In time, the widow’s son became sick and died. Overcome with grief, the widow blamed Elijah. You have come to my house, and now God’s attention has turned to me and He has seen my guilt. And so, he has taken my son from me.

Elijah had compassion. Surely, he knew the woman’s virtues and vices well after a year. But the thing that touched his heart was that this woman, who had shared everything she had, now had lost the thing that was most important to her.

And Elijah took the boy in his arms. He carried the lifeless boy into the upper room where Elijah stayed, and he prayed over him.

If you are unfamiliar with Elijah, then you may not know that Elijah had God’s ear. He could ask God to hold back rain, and God would hold back the rain. He could ask God to bring down rain, and God would open the heavens and pour down rain like crazy.

He could beg for fire from heaven, and fire would come down and set a stack of wood ablaze – even though the wood was soaked with so much water that the water pooled up all around it.

And now, Elijah interceded for the widow’s son. Three times, he covered the boy and begged God to raise him. “O Lord, my God, let the life-breath return to the body of this child.”

And the son rose up, and Elijah gave the boy to his mother, saying to her, “Your son is alive.

According to tradition, Our Lady was a widow at the time of the crucifixion. Most theologians believe that St. Joseph had already passed away, or surely he would have been at Mary’s side.

And so, we see the parallel in the two stories. A mother who gives all that she has - bread for the prophet, only to lose a son - but ultimately that son rises again. Even the image of three petitions reminds us of the passing of three days.

Our Lady gave all that she had as well - Bread of Life to the world, only to lose a son - but ultimately that son rises again after three days.

This was not so that Mary could see and believe, as it was for the widow in Elijah’s day. It was so that the world would be able to say precisely what that widow said to Elijah when he gave her back a living son. “Now indeed I know . . . the word of the Lord comes truly from your mouth.”

And today, every time we go to Mass, we can receive this One who is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. We can say to God, as Elijah said to the widow, please give me of this Drink and give me of this Bread, for I know, the word of the Lord comes truly from your mouth.


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