Sunday, March 22, 2009

Elisha and the Widow

In the Gospels, we see that Jesus’ concern for people included a great concern for restoring life (spiritual and physical) and feeding the hungry.

Yesterday, we read about Elijah. This prophet stayed with a widow during a great famine. While he remained with her, God multiplied her handful of flour and small portion of oil so that it fed them the entire year. And when her son died, Elijah prayed for him, and God restored the boy’s life. Prophetically, Elijah was demonstrating what Our Lord would do in his ministry – restore life and feed the hungry.

Today’s story is almost identical. In fact, if you do not read with an eye for the details, you might think I got lazy and just posted the same story today. But, no, this is a new story and another prophet.

God was ready to bring Elijah home. Holy Scripture says that God had already ordered a chariot of fire to go down and bring Elijah to heaven. And so, God announced the name of Elijah’s successor. Elisha.

Elisha is an interesting man, as was Elijah. He agrees to take Elijah’s place, but he asks for one thing. . . to receive a double portion of the Spirit after Elijah is gone.

Hmm. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? I want a double portion of God’s Spirit, too. What a fantastic petition. Would God agree to Elisha’s request?

Elijah tells Elisha that it won’t be easy, but if Elisha is with him when God’s chariot comes, Elijah will leave the mantle behind, and with it, Elisha will receive the double portion. (I love this story, and when I became Catholic, it helped me to see that things can indeed be holy – like Elijah’s mantle – and that we can even request that Our Lady throw her mantle around us when we are afraid or tempted or feeling weak.)

Elisha is in the right place at the right time. The chariot arrives. As it rises with Elijah inside of it, the senior prophet drops the mantle down, and Elisha picks it up. The successor turns and begins his journey alone, and when he comes to a stream, he strikes the water with the mantle, and the water parts for him.

Eventually, Elisha encounters people who are in need, just as Elijah before him. Like the senior prophet, he visits a widow who complains to him that she, too, has nothing – or almost nothing. Her debtors are demanding money, and all she has is a little oil.

Elisha tells her to send her children out to collect as many empty vessels as they can. Once her home is filled with pots, he tells her to close the door on her home, with only her children and herself left inside and to begin pouring into the empty containers from her reserve of oil. She obeys, and there is enough oil to fill every pot. When the last pot is filled, she announces that the oil has run out.

Elisha then commands the woman to sell the oil and pay her debtors and that she will have enough left to weather this difficult season of life. And so she does.

I find it interesting that these two stories both made it into Holy Scripture. Why do we need two stories that are almost identical? Perhaps it is to give us a preview of what Our Lord will highlight in his ministry. Restoring life and feeding the hungry. (Tomorrow’s “Elisha story” will focus on restoring life and once again we will see a parallel between Elijah and Elisha.)

Flour and oil. They are so important that these items appear almost weekly on the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry list in our parish bulletin. We are the widows, and like the widows in Holy Scripture, we tend to focus on how little we have and how far it has to stretch. But God tells us to give without fear, to give without restraint, and to give to the stranger as though he were a man of God. . . or even Our Lord himself.

It is an important lesson for our times. How can we receive the Bread of Life, but deny others the simple ingredients for mere bread? How can we enjoy Mother Church, where the doors of the House close, and we the children are permitted to remain inside and receive the gift of purest wheat, and then not go out those doors and give to others?

Find a food pantry and give today. Give without fear, give without restraint, and give as though the stranger were Our Lord himself.

The Blessed Mother, the Widow and Mother at the cross, has given us the Bread of Life. Let us go and do likewise.


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