Rev. Katherine Todd
1 Kings 17:1-16
1 Kings 17:1-16
Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” The word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Go from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi. But after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land.
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.
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
I love this passage about Jesus in the synagogue at his home town. I love the passage he reads from Isaiah. That passage has always resonated with me.
But this passage is loaded. One minute Jesus is reading from the scroll of Isaiah and the next he is evading an angry mob of the villagers he grew up with, who are leading him out of town and to the edge of the cliff, that they might hurl him off it.
This is serious stuff.
What made them so angry? Jesus has said so little.
But has he?
First off, after reading the part of Isaiah about how God’s Spirit is upon him to do all these good things, Jesus boldly says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled, in your hearing.” Jesus is essentially claiming God’s power and presence with him to do good works among them. Jesus is speaking the truth.
Everywhere else, folks are saying as much about him. Everywhere he goes, folks are amazed at God’s presence in him, God’s works through him, God’s Word spoken to them. But here, the crowd is harder to impress. Still, at first, they are enjoying his words and feeling quite pleased. But only a sentence or two more, and the whole dynamic shifts.
And why? Jesus’ own explanation is that a prophet is not accepted in his hometown.
And why is that?
I think it’s because we think we know the person. We think we have them figured out. There is not mystery. There is no wonder. We know who their parents are. We know all their siblings. We’ve been to their house. What’s there to get so excited about?!?
Well, perhaps Jesus’ words so far wouldn’t have gotten him killed. Perhaps they would have. He’s definitely claiming to be a prophet, at the very least. But it doesn’t sound blasphemous to them, as it would in later days. No, I think what got this crowd all riled up is in the words that come next. Jesus says,
“But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
Here, Jesus alludes to two Old Testament stories. These are scriptures the people would have known well. Most likely these Israelite listeners would have heard them and wondered at God’s mighty works through this most famous prophet Elijah. But Jesus points to another thread in these stories: the fact that the beneficiaries of God’s mighty acts were all OUTSIDE the nation of Israel, people from Lebanon and Syria.
The widow of Sidon (current-day Lebanon) and the leper from Syria are the beneficiaries of God’s mighty acts here through Elijah, not any of the many lepers or widows from among the people of Israel. Jesus hones in on this point. And without words, the offense is palpable. Jesus seems to directly point out the lack of faith of the people of Israel, and particularly his own hometown. Instead Jesus is lifting up outsiders as models of faith.
The author of Hebrews has defined faith as,
“the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
These hometown neighbors have known Jesus, his whole life. They think they know him. And so they have no faith. And their lack of faith means that Jesus cannot perform any acts or wonders among them. They are not in a position to believe or receive the working of God, standing in their midst. And all because they think they see. They think they know.
Just as with Elijah, others are benefitting from God’s mighty works, because they have come in hope and faith. They have come open. They have come seeking.
And GOD meets them.
We are a community of faith. We come from many different walks of life. We come from different backgrounds and faith experiences. Some of us are brand new to this place. Others of us have been here since we were born.
But we all come to faith,
We all come to community,
We all come to church,
With our set of baggage.
Many of us have “been there, done that” so much, that we are sure we can predict an outcome with a fair amount of certainty.
But do we also realize that our predictions,
Can seal our fate?
Do we also realize that our foresight,
Can restrict our outcomes.
Do we also realize that our SEEING,
Can be our blindness?
In life, the ability to predict outcomes can protect us from many things. It has in fact probably kept us alive until this point.
But reducing our lives of faith to natural, human outcomes completely eliminates God from the mix. Assessing the situation using the facts and circumstances we can see, leaves out the possibility of what GOD may do.
THERE IS ALWAYS MORE TO THINGS THAN WE CAN SEE.
So will we be those
Who stand in the presence of the living God
Closed, and certain, and offended?
Or will we be like the Lebanese woman and Syrian man,
Hoping for God.
Can we be a people, ever mindful that there is more to this life than we can see
Ever mindful that there is more to God than we can know
Ever mindful that there is more going on that we can perceive…
And will we be a people hoping and expecting, watching and waiting for God to show up?
And shake things up
And leave us amazed?
…In our lives
And in this place?
When the voice of God calls to us,
As it did through Elijah to that Lebanese widow gathering sticks to cook her final meal,
Will we have ears to hear?
Will we dare to hope?
Will we take the leap of faith?
Who will we be?