There are sometimes when death makes life seem worthless and hopeless; of course the two are parallel to each other. Death is no doubt a facility that is open to everybody; however the experience of bereavement could be very painful especially when children or young people are involved. At such points we would wish the situation was different or better still that it was all a dream; the same way I would wish that Chidera my god-daughter did not die in the plane crash or that the event took a different dimension as my book on her would narrate.
There are many gory tales of death; an entire family had died in an air disaster; an only son, daughter, and parents had also died in some gruesome ways leaving some people torn apart in anguish and mourning. Actually if you have not lost someone dear to you to death, the whole scenario of bereavement will sound very abstract. Today the first reading (1 Kings 17:17-24) and the gospel reading (Luke 7:11-17) present a very similar situation of loss and eventual restoration. In the first reading, the only son (and child) of a widow at Zarephat who was serving as a host to Elijah during the famine suddenly took ill and died and in the gospel a widow from the town of Nain was mournfully moving with the throng in a funeral procession to bury her only son.
In the first reading Elijah had come to the widow at Zarephat not by accident but through divine direction. From the account of I Kings (17:7-9) we are told that God directed Elijah to go to Zarephat the Sidonian town where a widow HAD BEEN DIRECTED to supply him with food. Elijah went to Zarephat and just by the gate he met a woman gathering firewood. Elijah immediately understood that she was the widow and asked for water and eventually a piece of bread. The widow told him earnestly that she could provide water but for a piece of bread she could only boast of a handful of flour in a jar and a small quantity of olive oil in a jug and she was about preparing it for herself and her son to eat and then await the inevitable; death! Through divine instruction Elijah told her that the flour and the oil will not finish until God sends down rain upon the earth and so it was. Elijah moved into their house and they had so much to eat during the famine.
So far we can pause and learn some lessons before going on to the next episode. Whenever there is a genuine divine mission there is always a corresponding divine provision. In the book of Exodus (23:20) God promised to send an angel ahead to ensure security. Elijah was on a mission as a prophet to show forth the power of God over strange and powerless gods of Baal and Asherah (1 Kings 18:22ff).For this to happen at the appointed time he had to be provided for and that was why God sent him to the widow at Zarephat.
The widow could be seen here as the channel to the next episode and she played her part very well. During her time widowhood was not a state anyone wished or prayed for. A widow like an orphan is generally defenceless and vulnerable. This widow had only one male child no other relation or neighbour was mentioned.
The question that could possibly arise here could be “why did God choose her to play a host to Elijah among other widows at that time?”(See Luke 4:25-26).Divine providence is what comes to my mind. Divine providence could only be possible in a heart that is docile to God. From the interaction the woman had with Elijah we understand the type of person she was. When Elijah asked her for water and bread she respectfully gave an honest response. When the prophet told her that neither the flour nor the oil would finish until God sends down rain again, she did not doubt but obeyed (See 1 Sam 15:22). When in the next episode her child died she humbly acknowledged her sinfulness before the prophet.
In the next episode the only son of the widow took ill and later died. It was then that the woman came to Elijah to tell him that his coming to her abode had caused calamity to her as she believed that her sinful past caused the illness and death of her son. One can imagine the state of mind of the poor widow to have lost the only valuable possession; her only child. Her cries and wailing were so effectual and moving that Elijah took the dead child up to the upper chamber where he lodged. Placing the dead child on the bed he CRIED TO THE LORD in prayer of lament and after stretching himself upon the child three times he CRIED TO THE LORD asking for the restoration of the soul of the child and it happened instantly that the child came to life and he handed him over to the mother. Suddenly her mourning changed into merriment, her sighs became smiles, and her sorrow turned to celebration. There was an instant restoration!
In the gospel of today (Luke 7:11-17) we come across a similar situation as the one in the first reading. This also involved a widow whose son who is described as a young man died and they were on a funeral procession to the cemetery. This widow had support (a large crowd from the city) unlike the one in the first reading who was not attended to by anyone. The reason could be that as it was famine at that time, people were dying every day both young and old so the death of the son of the widow was not something very unusual.
In this periscope Jesus Christ was not invited to perform any miracle; he was not invited but he was moved with compassion at the loss and pain the widow was passing through. Our Lord Jesus Christ could see the present and future desperation the widow is and will be passing through. Our Lord was empathetic with the woman and said to her “DO NOT WEEP!” When the undertakers carrying the body stopped when Jesus asked them to by touching the bier he said “YOUNG MAN I SAY TO YOU ARISE. Instantly he arose and began to speak and our Lord gave him back to his mother in the same way Elijah gave the widow a living son though she gave him a dead son. The widow of the town of Nain who was mourning was now dancing. The widow who saw her sorrow increased now saw it diminished. Her tears of sorrow became tears of joy. The funeral music stopped and the music of celebration commenced, people pulled their mourning clothes and jumped into garments of celebration, the procession diverted from the burial-ground to the playground.
Often in life we are very much like the widows. We seem to have lost everything and still losing that which is most precious to us! Like the widow in the first reading we are convinced that our past sinful lives are haunting us in the present; nothing seem to be working out; it is all calamity after calamity no respite seem to be in view. In all these we should realise that PROVIDENCE is still at work and God will surely remember us (Numbers 10:9; Psalm 27:10). Often we have a large crowd around and about us yet no one can help our situation; but when Jesus Christ comes, our sighs will become smiles. Sometimes, though we are physically alive but morally and spiritually we are dead; there is no life in us. There is need for us to march up to the upper chamber of faith like Elijah and lay our dead situation before God and call upon him not just once but always and He will act (Joel 2:32; Romans 10:13).
We still have a lot to learn from the story of the widows and their restored sons. In the first reading Elijah told the widow at Zarephat that the jar of flour will not finish and the jug of oil will never run dry until God sends rain upon the face of the earth. Now the jar of flour and the jug of oil were provided by the widow. This is an indication of the fact that God will always grant increase not out of nothing but from what we are able to provide. There must be something before a multiplication. It happened when Elisha multiplied loaves of bread (2nd Kings 4:42-44) and when our Lord Jesus Christ fed the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish (Matt.14:13-21) in all things instances something was in place before multiplication.
Often we want God to give us every good thing we ever imagine in life but we are not ready let go even the smallest fragment of our possession which still came from God. If the widow at Zarephat did not let go her jar of flour and jug of oil there would not have been the miracle of abundance; her generosity brought about increase on the little she had. Those carrying the dead young man to the cemetery had the patience to stop and wait on Jesus to effect the restoration of the life of the son of the widow of Nain. There is need for us to let go and let God. Furthermore we need to wait on the Lord or we waste! Surely our restoration is something that will happen.
Have a blissful week ahead.