In 1 Kings 17, we find the simple story of the prophet Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. It is a beautiful vignette of compassion in the midst of a story about both political and religious upheaval.
Ahab ascends the throne as the King of Israel and immediately begins a campaign of introducing the worship of Baal to Israel. The story blames this on his new wife Jezebel, but it is probably a political move to curry favor with the Sidonians, the people and kingdom from which Jezebel comes. Baal is worshiped to gain political favor and influence and ensure political power in other words. God is angered and calls the prophet Elijah to proclaim that Israel and the surrounding area will endure a debilitating drought as a result of Ahab's faithlessness to God and power grasping. (If you read on to the chapters ahead, you will notice that Ahab's sin is not only religious. He acts unjustly, treats his subjects poorly and used fraud and deceit to increase his wealth and power. That too is a sin that displeases God).
So this is the story of a political and religious struggle between God and Ahab. How curious that very soon after this epic struggle is introduced, God sends Elijah to a widow living in Zarephath. The story says that God sends Elijah to her in order that she might provide sustenance for him. But we are immediately introduced to the full plan when Elijah arrives. Widows are socially vulnerable. They have no one to provide for them and little to no social security. This widow has a son we learn, but it seems that he is not of an age at which he can help provide for their small family. The drought, most likely, serves to deepen their struggle to survive. So God has not just sent Elijah to the widow to be provided for, but to provide for her.
And this is the point of the story. It reveals a God who is not only aware of the wealthy and powerful, but also of the poor and vulnerable. As a matter of fact, God first act after sending Elijah to proclaim the drought is to send Elijah to one of the people who will suffer from its consequences most, this widow. The God revealed by the Bible is the God is watching and listening for, the poor, the weak, the vulnerable. Liberation Theology calls this God's 'preferential option for the poor.' In terms that are more current, to God, poor lives matter. The depth and breadth of God's caring only grows when we realize that Zarephath is outside of Israel. So God's first act, after punishing Ahab is to provide for a poor, vulnerable, FOREIGN woman. The person NOT seen or acknowledged or cared for by the powerful, by Ahab, is the person that God listens too, watches and provides for.
This story shapes us as it opens our minds and hearts to listen to the stories of those who are either ignored, misrepresented or demonized in our society; the poor, the vulnerable, the foreign born, the powerless. It encourages us, in concert with yesterday's reflection, to listen to the stories that might pain or discomfort us most, for it reveals to us the stories we may wish to ignore, the perspective we may wish to discredit because they reveal a lack of justice and compassion. But there is no doubt that this story reveals that to God, the lives of the poor and the foreign born, and the politically powerless, matter to God.
If you would like to the listen to the sermon connected to this reflection return to the home page and listen to Hagar's Life Matters September 25, 2016