by Sonja Hagander
The Old Testament doesn’t usually make the top ten list of self-help books, and the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath is not where most people would look for a way through their stress. But the story takes place during a drought, and being stressed out is a lot like living in a drought. So maybe there is something in this story that can lead us toward refreshment in our stressful lives.
To set the stage: God has called Elijah to be a prophet. And God has told Elijah to go to a place called Sidon.
Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah.
1 Kings 17:8-16
Two details make this story a good one for us to reflect on as we seek calm: the jar of flour and the jug of oil.
The widow of Zarephath, let’s call her Zap, is gathering firewood near her village gates. She runs into Elijah, who asks for something to eat and to drink. Poor Zap has no more than a little flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug — just enough for one last meal for her and her son. Elijah tells Zap, “The jar of flour will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth.” (1 Kings 17: 14)
And the jar of flour didn’t run out and the jug of oil didn’t run dry, for on her way to prepare her last meal, Zap finds that in preparing another meal for Elijah she is given enough flour and oil for many days.
I don’t know about you, but this time of the year I find myself in crunch time. I’ve got things to do and projects to finish. There are challenges and opportunities galore. Maybe you too are feeling the need to weed out your calendar, to circle the wagons and hoard your resources of time and energy.
In the midst of all of this, the blessing I pray for you is this: That you experience the same surprising giftedness that Zap the widow of Zarephath experienced. Zap went to bake her last biscuit and give it away to Elijah, but was suddenly blessed with plenty of flour and oil for dozens of biscuits.
I pray that as you risk sharing the last of your flour and oil with someone else, you too will be surprised that God gives you enough for tomorrow. I pray that you trust God’s promise to provide flour and oil enough that you go out and share all that you have with someone in need.
There are Elijahs in many places in our lives: Someone invites you to walk over to the local church to help with the kids who gather there on Sunday afternoons. You really don’t have the energy, and there are dozens of other things you’d rather do, like watching a movie, going to the mall with your roommate, or getting something done on your to-do list. But you go. You give away your flour and oil. And some-thing amazing happens there: You get filled up. You get back more energy than you give.
Maybe you get a call from a friend whose mother has just been diagnosed with a serious illness, and he needs to talk. You have a paper due the next day and a test later in the week, but you listen to him anyway. And in the midst of giving your last bit of flour and oil to him, you find that you have enough for him, for the paper, and for the test.
My friends, as you share your flour and oil, you will get more in return. For that is how God works in the world, isn’t it? God gives you enough and you give it away, so the more of it you have. Christ gives you hope, and the more of it you spread around, the more of it you have. God gives you love, and you share it with others, so you get back more love than ever before.
This month, when you have only a little flour left in your backpack and just a smear of oil in the bottom of your Nalgene bottle, and you’re wondering if you’re going to make it, you just may meet Elijah, and he’ll ask you to make him a biscuit.
I pray that as you share that last biscuit with Elijah, you will be surprised by joy at the blessings of God given to you each day — which is enough. Amen.
The Rev. Sonja Hagander is the College Pastor at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minn.