The two readings today, the one from 1 Kings and the Gospel reading from Luke, each of these readings tell a story about a widow who encounters God’s grace.
Widows in ancient societies were often the poorest of the poor because in these male dominated societies they had no male companion to provide for them and protect them. Women, generally speaking, were not allowed to own property, and again, generally speaking, there was no way they could earn a living to sustain themselves. After her husband’s death a widow might be totally reliant on her son – if she was fortunate enough to have a son. In our stories today, both widows lost their only sons to death.
This morning I want to take a look into each of these stories to consider what lessons God might be providing here. Let’s consider how these stories might apply to our lives.
First some background leading into the first reading about the widow of Zaraphath: We travel back long before Jesus – to the time of the prophet Elijah – in a time of political instability – and in a time of severe drought. God sends Elijah to the home of the widow of Zaraphath, and trusting in God’s word, Elijah approaches her for help – for shelter and for food and water.
The woman tells Elijah that she and her son have only enough food for one last meal – and after that she expects to die. But Elijah assures her that the Lord will provide for them and that her supply of food will not run out.
Regardless of the dire situation, the woman – in blind faith – shares her home and food with Elijah. And true to God’s promise to Elijah, the food stock is maintained. This is obviously a miracle. God provides . . .
But in spite of God’s provision – the woman’s son dies. Her response to Elijah is two-fold: first she expresses her anger with God – and then she questions whether it is because of her sin that her son has died. Anger mixed with self-accusation – these are both emotions that we commonly experience when we are grieving . . .
And Elijah has no answer for her. Instead he passes it on to God. He turns her suffering into his prayer to God as he pleads for the son’s life. God responds by raising the widow’s son from the dead . . . Resurrection . . .
And now to the gospel story of the widow of Nain – – and we jump ahead in history to Jesus’ time. Jesus and a crowd of his followers are headed to the town of Nain. As they are approaching the town, they encounter another crowd leaving the town – a crowd of mourners accompanying a widow and her dead son – on the way to bury the son.
The widow of Nain is in a particularly dire situation. Not only has she lost here husband but now her son is dead. She has no one left to support her. With the death of her son, any promise for her future dies as well.
The focal point of this story is Jesus’ response when he sees the widow – when he sees her grief and sorrow. Jesus has had no prior relationship with the widow – he only happens to encounter her in the funeral procession. And no one asks Jesus to intervene: the woman doesn’t pray or beg – and nothing is said about her faith.
Jesus acts purely out of compassion for her – his heart goes out to her. Jesus responds by raising the widow’s son from the dead . . . Resurrection . . .
The message for us in stories of the widow of Zaraphath and the widow of Nain is clear: Suffering is definitely not God’s choice for us – but through the grief and suffering God transforms the pain into new life. God’s grace comes to us in times of need without condition, without expectations – God’s grace comes in Love.
Both of these stories are resurrection stories – they foreshadow the resurrection of Jesus himself. In both of these stories the widows’ sons are miraculously brought back to life after death.
It’s common, I think, for us to feel somewhat uneasy about these miraculous stories. There are, perhaps, two reasons for this:
First of all, we may not be willing to admit the power that death often holds on us. We may find it difficult to acknowledge the shadow that death casts over us. Yet to keep on living we have to find a way to deal with this avoidance. One way to cope? Simply don’t think about it. When unsettling thoughts of death arise, just push them aside. Another other healthier, happier option? Find a living hope. Jesus is that living hope . . . Jesus is compassion and love . . . Jesus is Resurrection . . . and Jesus is life . . .
Another reason we may feel uneasy or perhaps ambivalent, unsure about miracle stories is that we don’t expect to see miracles happen in our lives. We don’t expect miracles to actually touch us personally. We tend to ignore the power in the gospel of resurrection because we don’t see it as a reality that applies to us. We usually think of resurrection being limited to Christ – that his resurrection is the one that matters because it brings salvation.
But the whole truth is that Christ is the first-born of the dead . . . but He is not the only born. The power and the good news of the Gospel doesn’t end with the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection of the dead includes each one of us. We can truly and confidently live into the hope that Jesus offers to each one of us . . .
As Jesus promised us (and in His words):
“This is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life . . . and I will raise him up on the last day.”