There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon (Luke 4:25-26).
Sent though he is, Elijah seemingly forgets to help the widow and her tiny son at all. Instead he asks her to get food and drink for himself (First Reading).
She says she has “only a handful of flour” at home in her jar, and “a little oil” in her jug. She is collecting wood to cook the very last meal she and her young son will ever eat. After that they will die of starvation and thirst.
But God has a trick up his sleeve.
We hear it when Elijah now repeats what God had commissioned:
The God of Israel says, “The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth.”
Who knows what our widow made out of these words, which were all she had to rely on.
But rely she did. She bakes her last tiny bit of bread—in front of the wide eyes of her son—and takes every bite of it to Elijah.
Does this story make sense? Not so far. Then what is it saying?
That the widow trusted in God’s goodness even in the face of impending death. She instinctively responded by releasing her own control of things. This is the root meaning of trust. When the chips are down, let go and let God. Even in your last extremity.
And so, after all, God had sent Elijah to help the widow not rob her.
In the Gospel another widow illustrates the same kind of generosity, putting the last two pennies she has to her name into the collection box. Jesus sees this act and observes the depth of her faith.
Today in California or Florida or Puerto Rico or Central America or Syria or so many places in need we find people struggling to place their lives in the hands of God—in whatever way they know God— and then working like crazy to survive.
Are they failing in their relation to God? Just the opposite.
For that matter, how much do you and I trust God?Or do we rely on fear?