This morning we are called to go backwards rather than forward, at least in terms of our reading from the Book of Kings. Last week, we heard the conclusion of the battle between Yahweh and Baal, this week’s reading brings us into the middle of the story.
As I mentioned last week, scandal and turmoil was brought to the northern kingdom of Israel when King Ahab chose to marry Jezebel, the Phoenician princess. While this was a merger of two powerful families, as well as a diplomatic coup, it was not good for Israel in terms of its loyalty to Yahweh. Ahab was not a good king, he was greedy and power hungry, he was more focused on building his treasure than keeping the ancient covenant with Yahweh. With Jezebel as his queen, the introduction and the command to worship gods that were not Yahweh infiltrated Israel.
Again, we must not forget, the worshipping of multiple gods was part of the ancient culture, but not for Israel who lived under the command of Yahweh to have no other gods but Yahweh. Yahweh being a jealous god brought drought to the lands of Israel and neighboring countries. The fact Yahweh brings about a drought is significant. Again, last week I mentioned Baal was an agricultural God, in specific, Baal was the god of rain. One would have thought the children of Israel and Ahab would have been smart enough to figure out that not only was Yahweh angry with Israel, but that Yahweh was also mightier than Baal as the drought grew worse despite the supplications of the people to Baal. But then again, as human being, we are not the sharpest knives in the drawer when it comes to our relationship with Yahweh.
Today’s passage finds Elijah living in exile. Elijah ticked off Ahab when he predicted the drought and declared Yahweh’s anger over Ahab’s marriage to Jezebel. If there is one thing every good ancient knew is that it was unwise, actually down right lethal, to tick off the king. So Elijah found himself running for his life. At first he lived in the woods being fed and cared for by ravens, now he has been sent from his wooded lair to Zeraphath where he is to be cared for by a widow and her child.
Let me be straight, there is a lot wrong with this picture. Zeraphath is in the country where Queen Jezebel is from, not making it exactly the safest harbor for one who has spoken against her. Second, he is being sent to live with a widow and her orphaned son in the midst of a drought. Not a lot of resources there to meet his physical needs. But then again, God does not put together the most logical of plans. If you need more proof just look at who God chose to be the patriarch of the twelve tribes of Israel.
With God anything is possible, according to Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth ex nihilo, from nothing. And so it is for Elijah and the Widow of Zerapath. From near empty jars of oil and meal, God provided food enough for all to live until the drought was brought to an end.
This is not all Yahweh does for the Widow of Zerapath, when her son dies, it was Yahweh, through Elijah who brings the child back to life.
The first question many of us want to ask after hearing the stories of ancient miracles is, are they true, did all the events described in Old Testament really happen? When approaching the Bible, asking if it is factually true may be the wrong question. The ancients were not so much interested in knowing the empirical reality as they were in asking what these stories told us about God and God’s relationship with humanity.
The writer of First Kings is clear as to who God is. God is the creator of all the universe. It is Yahweh and Yahweh alone who has the power over all the land and sea, over the skies, the sun and the rain. And it is Yahweh, who has the ultimate power on this earth, the power to control the darkness of death itself.
We may think we are in control, that we are the masters of our own destiny. As a modern people will live with the illusion that all of life is at our command. We forget how fragile life really is. Despite the abundance food in our grocery stores, the ability to transverse this world by plane or boat, no matter how much we believe we have control of the world, the truth is, we are not in control, we cannot create matter from nothing, we cannot control the rain or the sun and despite modern medicine we do not have power over life or death. Having power over death is the ultimate test of what or who has power. In today’s Gospel, Jesus shows the world that he holds the authority of Yahweh once again by raising the Widow of Nain’s son from the dead. And we know Peter demonstrated to the world that the authority of God lays within the church when he raised the woman from the dead.
This week and last week in Paul’s letters to the Church, he asserts his authority as an apostle was not an authority bestowed on him by others, but by the Risen Christ himself. It was an authority he discovered only after he gave up his own authority when he gave his life to Christ. When we let go of our own false sense of authority, our pride and our hubris and accept God’s authority in our lives we ultimately find the peace of God as we allow ourselves to live into God’s dream for each of us.
Thirteen years ago, I had the opportunity to bring a youth group on mission trip to the mountains of Puerto Rico. The center where we stayed was nestled in the midst of the coffee plantations. Coffee is planted on hillsides, in this case coffee was planted on the steep slopes of the Puerto Rican mountains. Slopes so steep I often wondered how the workers managed to harvest the beans and not fall off the slopes.
Life on the coffee plantations is precarious, workers in fact do lose their footing and often fall hundreds of feet down the side of the mountain.
In the mountains of Puerto Rico there is no illusion as to how fragile life can be and to whom they belong. Each morning when we would rise for breakfast we could see the men walking to the chapel at the top of the fields and hear them pray for God’s protection and for an abundant harvest. Life is hard for the plantation worker. Their lives are filled with tragedy and struggle. However,despite their struggles, what we found as we lived and worked among them was not a sense of sorrow or defeat, but a sense of joy and peace. For there was no illusion, they knew the coffee they harvested was from God. That it was God in whose hands their lives were held, and it was in God whom they trusted with all that they were and all that they are.
This is the lesson King Ahab and Jezebel refused to accept and this is the lesson we continue to struggle with today. That we are God’s and from God that all that we have and that we are is given.