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Elijah

I was sitting in morning prayer earlier this week and Fr Christopher was reading the set text from the book of Nehemiah.   And I thought I was just thinking it but actually I was saying it, well shouting it really: “for the love of God just SHUT UP!” 

Fr Christopher, thankfully, understood that I was not telling him to shut up but Nehemiah – Good God – on and on he was ranting about foreign women:

Foreign women were the cause of all Israel’s problems, exile, war, famine, drought, poverty – apparently it's all the fault of foreign women – well, actually, it is the fault of the people who, you know, let the foreign women in.  

Foreign women had to go – they needed to be divorced, thrown out, sent back where they came from (ritual slaughter might be nice …).

I felt guilty for heckling for about 30 seconds until I thought about the fact that a lot of scripture is yelling at Nehemiah too (the book of Ruth for instance in which a foreign female is held up as an example of faithfulness and compassion).

This morning’s readings are full of foreign women.  The Elijah passage tells the story of the prophet’s encounter with the widow of Zarephath – an almost destitute foreign woman. This is the person through whom God chooses to save the prophet’s life.  

But the prophet’s life is only in danger in the first place because of his encounter with another foreign woman – this time a rich and powerful one - Queen Jezebel.

Elijah was not happy about Queen Jezebel  – coming over here into HIS land with her foreign ways and a foreign god.  Elijah (whose name means Yaweh is my God – MY GOD – not yours, definitely not Jezebel’s) was furious - he wanted her to go back where she came from and take her foreign ways and foreign god with her.  

So he commanded a drought – a drought which lasted 7 years and caused the death of crops and creatures and people (not just women, not just foreigners but hey ho – collateral damage, right?).  
The trouble was that the drought threatened to cause the death of Elijah too; he had hidden by a wadi in the mountains where God sent the ravens to feed him but the wadi dried up, as it would, because there was a drought. 

Elijah would die.  Except that God sent him into Sidon (the very foreign land that the damn Queen had come from in the first place) to another foreign woman whom he begged for water so that he, who had caused the water shortage in the first place, might not die along with everything and everyone else. 
Let’s look at the widow’s options: here is a man who is of a different race and faith crossing the border into her land in a time of extreme economic insecurity.  What is more, this is a man who professes to hate her people, her ways and her god and is actively going about encouraging violence against them claiming his god’s authority. 

The widow could ask to see his papers, she could tighten the law on freedom of speech, she could report him as a terrorist, she could relocate him to some other town further away from the border, she could put him in a detention centre, send him back where he came from, call a summit to discuss the influx of hungry foreigners or the rise of religious extremism or both, she could help him only after he has got a himself a job and paid his taxes, she could leave him to die.

She could - but without a murmur goes to fetch him water.   

And as she goes Elijah asks if she might also bring him food!

She explains that there is, you know, a drought and her jar of oil and jar of grain are almost empty.  She and her only child are facing starvation.  

Elijah begs her to take a risk.  Trusting that God, from whom he has demanded scarcity, will bless her with abundance. 

And she does, she takes that risk, and shares the last of all she has with a stranger and an infidel from a foreign land – a stranger and an infidel who has called down the wrath of god on her and her people.
And the risk pays off and God refills her jar of oil and her jar of grain and they become a fount of food and life that doesn’t dry up. 

So it turns out that God is not just the God of Elijah – my-God-not-yours E-li-jah – but also of this foreign widow and if of her, then who else? 

Elijah believes in a god of scarcity – he desires to keep his land, his resources, his life, his god to himself. And when he does it brings death: not just to foreigners but to his own people and potentially to him.  The widow trusts in abundance, she shares all that she has and it brings life to her household and to his. 
In our gospel this morning – Jesus also goes into foreign land to ask a woman, a foreigner, an infidel, for water, for life.  If she is able to open the well and her hands and heart to him he promises not just to give her living water but to make her a spring from which living waters will flow for others. 

I started this week by shouting at the scriptures – the very last book of which, Revelation, contains a fair bit of shouting but it ends with this image:

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb .. On either side of the river grows the tree of life …  and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations".

And the angel said ‘These words are trustworthy and true … and show what must take place.’
‘See, I am coming soon!” 

Come, Lord Jesus, come.