1 Kgs 17:7-16; Ps 4:2-8; Mt 5:13-16
Today’s psalm asks some very pointed and painful questions of leaders; men of rank, they are called. “How long will you be dull of heart?” “Why do you love what is vain and seek after falsehood?” Indeed, leaders in every generation must answer these questions. Perhaps our leaders would be more attentive to these kinds of questions if we held ourselves more accountable. Dullness, vanity, and falsehood, these plague followers and leaders alike. King David prayed what we need to pray: “O LORD, let the light of your countenance shine upon us!” If we trust that the LORD will answer and relieve us in distress, then we will not have to dull our senses, intellect, and memory with escapist chemical or behavioral relief. If we trust that the LORD has pity and hears us whenever we call upon him, then we will not waste time and energy building up our own self-importance. If we know that the LORD does wonders for his faithful one, then we will not put our trust in the lies of our culture or our politicians. Indeed, anyone who seeks the light of truth and love, anyone who seeks the face of the LORD will tremble in sheer delight. Such a one will be silent and listen to his response to our pleading. Then will true gladness fill our hearts, more than when grain and wine abound. This is the kind of faith in the LORD that Elijah had when his source of water dried up. This is the kind of faith to which the Prophet summoned the poor widow of Zarephath. Indeed, only when the Light of His Countenance shines upon us will our good deeds be seen for what they are, God’s saving work in us.
Only a prophet would dare to say, “Do not be afraid.” Her flour jar is nearly empty. Her oil jug is almost dry. The rain has not come down for months. Israel and all the surrounding nations are suffering a famine, and the stranger—must be a prophet—says do not fear. This widow-mother is doing what every self-sacrificing mother has done throughout history. She is preparing something for herself and her son after which she expects they both shall die. In the midst of such love the LORD speaks through his prophet, “Do not be afraid.” Only someone who had heard the LORD command him would dare move beyond the borders of Israel to find a generosity that the Man of God could not find, even among God’s People. It seems that Sidon was a people who suffered the same famine as Israel. Perhaps the unfaithfulness of Israel spilled over national boundaries. Indeed, how many of our neighbors have suffered because of our lack of faith? Here in Zarephath of Sidon the true prophet of the God of Israel finds among the powerless and nearly dead widow such tenderness and compassion that he visits for a year. Indeed, as the LORD had foretold through Elijah, the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry. Both the widow and the prophet are needed to behold the wonder and glory of the God who loves and saves us even when the brook dries up, even when hope no longer flows through the dry and parched earth in our hearts and in our nation.
The Lord God made Adam and Eve to share his own divine life forever. They rejected his command. They choose their own will over his. The Lord God pursued the rebellious children of Adam and Eve. He made covenants again and again with his People Israel. They rejected his command. They choose their own will over his. Still the Lord pursued his rebellious nation. They were chosen among all the nations to be the salt of the earth and light of the world. Israel was to be a Holy People who would reveal the Father’s own holiness to the nations. But what if Israel no longer salts history to bring out the divine flavor? What if the light of God’s glory upon the faces of his people no longer brightens the darkness of every time and place? At the time of Elijah the nation and its king had very little taste for the things of God and very little burning desire to seek his countenance. Even when we lost his favor and did not trust in his kindness, the LORD does not deny his own identity. Still He comes; He comes to save us. He comes as a wandering preacher with his disciples to provide everyone with the salt needed to bring out the true flavor of the divine presence in our world, even in our suffering. He comes a powerless teacher with his disciples to provide everyone with the light needed to make them the light of the world. Indeed, our failure and rebellion does not diminish the desire or power of Our Heavenly Father to save us from a dull and tasteless life full of vanity and falsehood. In this Eucharist we are fed and strengthened to follow the only Lord of Heaven and earth.