Upon sitting down to read the evening’s paper after dinner, my father would take off his shoes and socks. If a car were to come into our driveway, my mother would run around the living room straightening up. She would pick up his shoes and socks and throw them quickly down the old clothes chute, down into the basement, where the shoes could be retrieved the next morning, ah yes, by my father. He would protest that anybody worth coming to our house was worthy of meeting us as we were. He was a lawyer, but always lost that case.
As we prepare for this Sunday’s liturgy we might pray with our attempts at straightening up so as to be worthy of the presence of Jesus in the Word and in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. My father’s ways, at least in this case, is the approach of Jesus. He loves us the way He finds us, but loves us enough so as to not leave us there. We can pray these days with our being worthy of His coming up our driveways and into our heart-homes and embracing us whether or not we have our shoes on or off, or confined to the basement. We can pray with the little human experiences of being found, and finding others, just as is.
The Book of Kings, from which our First Reading is taken, has many stories and adventures of the prophet Elijah. Earlier in the chapter from which our Reading is taken, Elijah has foretold a drought upon this agricultural nation. What we hear is his being sent by God into a foreign nation where God tells him that he will meet a widow who has been told to give Elijah food. This is important, because it can sound as if Elijah is quite demanding of the widow. In reality, God has set up a prophetic revelation of God’s care for the widow, her son and Elijah himself. Remember, this all takes place in a foreign land which is looked down upon by the people of Israel.
Elijah plays his part, the widow hers and most importantly, God Who does the faithful thing. There is poverty and the widow, with her son, are planning to finish their meager food supply and then die of starvation. One of the strong laws announced by Moses was to take especially good care of the widows and orphans. Elijah makes a strong statement about the widow’s need to take care of him.
We hear then of God’s taking good care of the widow after she had made a move of faith by responding to the prophet’s request. So the story has a happy ending. The flour and oil do not run out. The rain comes after and all is well; Hmm, not quite. What we do not hear and which follows this part of the story is the subsequent illness of the widow’s son. It does not say that it is because of the cake cooked in oil however. The widow blames Elijah for being there as a judgment upon her. Elijah takes the son to his own room and restores him to health after crying out to God. The widow, upon receiving her son back, announces that now she knows Elijah to indeed be a prophet of the God of Israel. Now you know the rest of the story.
There are two sections to the longer reading of today’s Gospel. The first is an indictment about the self-important struttings and religious practices of the scribes. Jesus is warning His disciples not to come close to following these traditions when they are sent to announce the good news.
During the Offertory of the liturgies at the parish I am privileged to do weekend ministry, I hold out in front of me a collection basket for the littler parishoners to eagerly drop in their coins and envelopes. Sometimes they creep up very gingerly and, with some fear, donate to me, as they might think. Some charge up and do the slam-dunk almost knocking that basket out of my hands. One little fellow recently put in his bit and looked up and said, “Nice haircut”. One other little lad came up with his older sister, tried to take some money out of the basket, she took it and put it back, turned and was heading back to her seat until she heard the congregation laugh as he went back to try again. How very human it all is and so beautiful.
The big question always is, “Why be good if God loves us whether we are good or not?” We do good things, not out of fear nor manipulating God’s love, we do good, because that is who we are! We do not drop our real selves into the Holy Water font and pick them up on the way out. The widow put in most of the little she had and went in. Jesus drops all that He has into our lives and we leave the church, because that is who we are: The Sent, The Missioned, The Massed, Re-membered, The Blessed.
“The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want. In green pastures he gives me rest, he leads me beside waters of peace.” Ps. 23, 1-2
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