The widow of Zarephath reminds us that our own resources are far too meager
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Adonyah was angry at the scraggly Hebrew man who had wandered into her hometown. He acted as if he were the only one who was hungry or thirsty when, in fact, the entire region was suffering the effects of a prolonged drought. His request that she bake him a little cake was more than presumptuous.
Adonyah wanted to tell the old man to go back to where he came from, but she realized that he was the only hope she had. Her young son was losing weight and becoming weak. She had not been able to find enough food for him. Baal, the god of her people, had proved himself unwilling or unable to help. Adonyah did not know what else to do, so she took a chance and prepared a cake for the annoying prophet. Perhaps the God of the Hebrews would show her some kindness like the old man promised. What was there to lose? Saving the little cake for her son would not improve his chances for survival. He needed more help than that.
God’s choice of a Phoenician woman to assist Elijah is wonderfully ironic, since another Phoenician woman, namely Jezebel, was creating all sorts of problems in Israel, especially for faithful Jews like Elijah. Soon after Jezebel had married King Ahab, she convinced her husband to abandon God and adopt her pagan religion. Most of Israel abandoned God right along with him. A drought ensued. God wanted to keep Elijah safe until the danger passed, so he instructed Elijah to head to Phoenicia where he would find a generous person to provide assistance.
Of course Adonyah, the widow of Zarephath, did not know much about God and she was not quite ready to abandon Baal entirely. Nonetheless, we can learn something from her. Jesus certainly thought highly of her. At the very start of his ministry in Galilee he reminded his listeners of her good example, a reminder the people of Nazareth were not too excited to hear!
Adonyah recognized her need for God. All she had was a handful of flour, a little oil and a few sticks. She realized that she could not make a life for herself and her son with such meager provisions. The people of Israel had not come to the same insight. With a powerful king, an exotic queen, fields full of grain and wells full of water, they figured that they could take care of themselves. They forgot how much they needed God.
We need to avoid the same mistake. When we are safe and secure and have money in the bank, we might feel quite self-sufficient. Adonyah reminds us not to forget about God, to remember that apart from God our resources are far too meager to provide the life we really desire for ourselves and our families.
Adonyah not only recognized her need for God, but she was also willing to make a leap of faith. She gave away half the bread she had to a complete stranger, hoping and trusting that God would watch out for her. All of us are invited to make leaps of faith on occasion. Getting married, having children or starting a brand new career require that we put our trust in God. Yes, we need to prayerfully consider our decisions and think through the implications of possible courses of action, but the future remains uncertain and we cannot guarantee what will happen. We have to make a leap of faith, trusting that God will be with us through it all, just as he was with Adonyah and her son after she prepared a little cake for Elijah to eat.
For the Mass readings for June 7, click here. To learn more about the painting of the widow of Zarephath and Elijah, click here.
Author’s note: Scripture provides no name for the widow of Zarephath. We might imagine that her name was Adonyah.