When we consider the nature of Israel during Biblical times, we must remember that first and foremost, they were intended to possess a missionary character. Their purpose was to be God’s chosen people for several reasons. First, their personal example in holiness was meant to draw the nations back to God, as it had been in the beginning. Second, they were meant, as priests, to instruct the nations in the ways of God. We see this missionary character at its peak during the reign of King Solomon, when rulers from all around the world traveled to learn his wisdom, which was ultimately a gift from God.
With a few exceptions, the exact opposite of their calling happened. Rather than leading the world to God, they were led by the nations to serve false idols. Rather than instructing in wisdom, they were instructed in foolishness, as the very notion of serving dead pieces of wood was the height of absurdity.
If man was faithless however, God was still faithful. His people would serve their purpose one way or another. We begin to see the recapturing of this missionary spirit during the times of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. They establish the path that is expounded upon by later prophets. In their own individual way, they begin paving the landscape for not only Jesus Christ, but the very missionary nature of His Church thousands of years later.
With Elijah, we note his missionary character during his exile by King Ahab when he is sent to Zarephath. The Book of Kings tells us Elijah is sent there, and “I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” When the Kingdom of Israel rejects Elijah’s message, God sends him to the nations represented by this Phoenician woman.
As a Phoenician, she worshipped the elements of nature like her people. As was noted in the last posting, Elijah causes a drought to fall upon the entire region as a way of showing God’s supremacy over the elements of nature. In addition to the drought, there is a massive famine throughout the land. When Elijah meets the widow, the famine has become so intense that she and her son are preparing one last meal before their death. They have essentially given up all hope.
If the drought showed God’s supremacy, Elijah would show God’s clemency. By taking care of God’s servant Elijah, he promises the woman that what little she has will not run out. Sure enough, that small bit of food and oil feeds them for years.
There is much to be said within this little story about the missionary character of the Church. Like the pagans of the story, the people of the nations today are losing hope. They have worshipped at the altar of sex, power, the passing things of this world, and they have provided no happiness. In the certain sense of the word, they are “widows.” They were called and made for union with God, and they have deserted Him. The widowhood of mankind is stranger though, for the widow is a widow by choice, choosing to treat the one they were called for union with as dead. They are truly alone in the world.
Like Elijah, the Church is sent to the widow, the man of today without God. The Church points out the intellectual and spiritual famine of this world and says “join us, bring us to your home, and you will survive this.” Yet the individual must provide their life towards God’s service. By giving up the last bit of food she had, the widow was taking a great risk, and yet still had nothing to lose. If she gives up the last bit of food and nothing happens, her death is certain. If she turns the man away, she dies anyway, except maybe with a little bit of the pain dulled out.
Is this not what the world does today? They take things that were originally given by God, and use them for their own selfish purposes. They don’t really bring healing; they just make it easier to cope. The sexually promiscuous person is never happy. I had a friend in this state, who told me she had to drink herself into a massive stupor to be able to sleep with anyone anymore. She knew it didn’t help or maker her happier, what it did was kill the pain for a brief amount of time, making the road to death easier.
Elijah challenges the woman to do different. Picking up on the previous column, he offers a second wager to the world. Don’t use what you have simply for the gratification of yourself; use it as a gift to others. Use your food to help save the lives of others. Everyone dies anyways; we might as well spend that time trying to enrich the lives of others. This act of selflessness ends up being her salvation. Through this one act, God provides her an endless supply of food and happiness. When the widow’s son dies, Elijah restores him. At this point, the widow recognizes the truth of God Elijah brings to her, and she begins to worship God.
The Church today tells the modern world: Following falsehood will lead you to death. There is no happiness in the religion of self. Only in serving others will you find life. Only in being a gift to others will you find true prosperity and happiness.
May we always have this zeal with the world, and everyday bring souls the source of true happiness and life.