One fifth of all we know about Elijah is contained in this lengthy story between him and a widow. It shows us an odd side of this pushy prophet. It shows us his compassion more than any other story about him in the Bible.
Once the waters have dried up God tells Elijah to go to Sidon. That’s Jezebel’s hometown, enemy territory. And he’s supposed to find there a foreign widow. Already the story is rich with intrigue. Will Elijah punish the widows just as he will eventually punish the prophets of Sidon who follow Baal? How will Elijah show his real self?
Widows often had little for themselves let alone anyone else. In fact, this widow was preparing to make a cake as a last meal for her and her starving son. And who does she encounter, but yet another man making demands upon her. Everyone knew she was a widow. It was in the clothes she wore. It was in the way people treated her. Even her son was known as an orphan, not because he had not parent, but because he had no father. He would never have an inheritance. They were forced to live off of the welfare system. But when the taxes get cut, and the programs dried up they had to live off people’s charity. When that dried up, there was nothing left. They were at the end of their ropes.
Plenty of us have felt at the end of our rope. We feel we just can’t go on. We get so lost in our despair that we can’t see anything but the bottomless pit that we are in and the walls seem impossible to climb out of.
That’s where God comes in. Through Elijah, God comes not once, but twice to this woman. The first time is when Elijah demands food from her. She protests, as would we all. But then God expands the meal so that there is enough for Elijah, the widow and her son. It seems reminiscent of when Jesus fed 5000 people with just a few fish and five loaves of bread. It shows that God can and does show up when we are at our lowest point. God is like that sometimes, offering us hope when we have given up on hope and even when we have given up on God.
But like many of us, one healing was not enough. There were more challenges for the widow of Zarapheth. Her son was close to death. He had run out of health insurance. The best doctors couldn’t do anything. Her last hope was Elijah. Elijah did his little dance and brought the child back to life.
Like Jesus, Elijah was a healer.
Was his healing power in the bowing that he did over the child?
Was it the fact that he shunned and challenged Ahab? Was it in the faithfulness he had toward God?
Was it in his ability to claim his faith?
Or was it in his compassion?
Compassion is powerful medicine. It combines passion with community. That’s a powerful source of healing. Compassion is the core of healing.
Hebrews 13:1-2 encourages us to be compassionate. Receive the stranger and the poor for we may be receiving angels without knowing it. We are told over and over again in the scriptures that we are not to forget the widow, the orphan, the stranger, even the resident alien. If we are to be true followers of God, we need to remember the least. As Jesus said, the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
When our child is close to death, when we are without food, when we are at our ropes’ end, maybe even a foreigner will show up and remind us about our best possibilities. They will be present with us in our despair. In this way, God does not leave us comfortless.
Brother Paul Carter is here today for the last time. He is going to Chicago to be with his sister Bria as she deals with a disease which has invaded her body and has ravaged the soul of her family and friends. And he is going to be with her, like Elijah.
Like Elijah, he has healing powers.
Like Elijah, he garners the strength of his community.
Like Elijah he has compassion.
Like Elijah, he leads by example.
Like Elijah, he looks to God for strength.
And I know that as he goes from this place, he will take the healing power of God with him.
To heal body,
to heal soul,
to mend broken relationships,
to model what it is to be a compassionate person of God.
We bless you Paul and we send you on your way with God’s blessing.
May you be the healer for Bria and for you family.
And when you are not strong enough and need some healing yourself, may you find an Elijah there in Chicago who can point you in the right direction—in God’s direction.
For in God is all power, all healing and all strength.