Oil, Flour, and the Death of Hope

The scene where Elijah meets the widow in our readings this week has always been a powerful one in my mind. The words she says to the prophet are haunting: “I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.”

It is chilling: the brutal honesty, the horror of that kind of poverty, the ache of a mother for her dying son.

And Elijah’s answer? Ok, that’s great. Make me some bread anyway will ya? It is an odd answer for such a hopeless predicament.

Then later the boy dies anyway. And here we see the connection to the story of Jesus – another widow whose son is dead. These are stories not only of the death of sons, but of the death of hope.

Women in those days were completely dependant on men for survival. As a woman, you were provided for by your father, and then your husband. If you father and/or your husband die, you had no one to care for you. But occasionally, a son might be able to step up and provide.

A widow’s son was their last shot at hope. From there it was death, starvation, or if she is lucky, prostitution. A widow whose son dies watches the curtain close on the last bit of hope. I imagine both of these women were clawing and scraping just to get by until their boys were old enough to work. “If I can just hold out a little longer, we will survive this.” And then the hope dies.

In the midst of this, we have a Psalm about a God who cares for the widows. Not only does God care for them, but they are God’s main concern. God is going to provide for them. I imagine in the moments when the widows meet these two prophets, those words would seem hollow and empty.

Yet at their most desperate point, they meet someone who begins to draw a bit of the curtain back and show the way forward.

You are not forgotten.

You are not alone.

Just hang on for one more day.

This is where we often encounter God: in the moments where we are not sure we have another day in us. In these moments, Jesus comes alongside and gives hope. Sometimes it is a change of circumstances like when the boys are raised. Other times, like the miracle of oil and flour, it is just the strength to go on.

Hang in there.

Stay with me.

Hope is coming.

All is not lost.

You are not forgotten.

In fact, in those moments you have God’s attention in a very special and unique way. It is in these moments God comes the closest. Often this does not mean a miraculous change. It is just the reminder that God is there. You CAN go on another day. You will endure. Hope is not lost. Hang on to hope. Keep enduring. God is at work, making all things right.

Honestly, when my life gets difficult stories of radical change in circumstance really upset me. When I am going through a difficult time, I have rarely have a completely miraculous reversal of fortune and circumstances. It is not that I don’t think radical change is possible. It is just stories of fortune reversal seem distant and irrelevant in dark places.

wm166576ttBut the oil and the flour….

Now that is hope.

It is hope found in something Ordinary. It is an Ordinary miracle. It is a miracle which occurs in the day-in-day-out grind of life. I can’t change what happened yesterday. I have no idea what might happen tomorrow. But today I have an Ordinary miracle that helps me hang on for one more day.

This has been my experience of hope and Jesus. I find the miraculous in the Ordinary. Those miracles take even take shape in ordinary things: a hug, a song, a text. But their ordinary-ness does not make them any less miraculous.

The miraculous may not change my circumstances, but it gives me the strength to endure. It reminds me I am not alone and not forgotten. Jesus comes uncomfortably close and says:

Endure.

Hang on.

I am with you always.

Especially right now.

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