I have never been truly hungry. In fact, I’ve never really wanted for much of anything in my life. Which makes reading some of the Bible difficult. The experiences of poverty, in particular.
And there are numerous accounts of those experiencing poverty and God’s response to these people.
So many in fact, a whole branch of theology emerged to articulate God’s “preferential option for the poor,” a central tenet of the Liberation Theology pioneered by Gustavo Gutierrez.
This just serves to illustrate my point, however. For me, poverty, real poverty, is a matter to think about, it is not a reality that is lived.
So when I read about a widow worried about losing her sons to slavery to pay for family debts because they have no way to replay their creditors (2 Kings 4:1-7), my mind reads the words and imagines the story, but I have not been in such a desperate situation. I do not know this kind of poverty.
And perhaps this is why I do not know the kind of miracle this widow participates in.
I note some have used stories like this to perpetuate poverty or glamorize the poor. “Look at the way God blesses them. They didn’t have anything and now they have so much.” God’s preference for the poor is not because God likes poverty. Poverty is more often than not the result of our selfishness and failure to share with others, so God intervenes where we should have helped.
In this widow’s story we learn she has many neighbors who are willing to give her empty jars. Why were they not also willing to help her keep her sons? There’s a limit to our generosity, or at least there’s a limit to mine.
But not so with God. Through the prophet Elisha (read about a similar story with Elijah in 1 Kings 17:11-13), God supplies enough oil for the woman to pay the creditors with enough left over for her to live on.
Again, it’s a great story of a wonderful miracle. It also feels so unnecessary to me.
Why does it take an act of God for this widow to keep her family together? Why does God have to step in and do the things we should be doing for each other?
Oil may not be the expensive commodity today it was in this biblical account, but there are still those struggling with poverty. There are still those who find their sons and daughters sold into one form of slavery or another. There are still people like me who have the luxury of luxury.
I don’t know. If God has a preferential option for the poor, shouldn’t I? If God champions the widow and orphan, shouldn’t I? If God blesses the poor with “oil,” shouldn’t I?
Lest I see my self as some rescuer, Lord help me to see my complicity in, if not creating at least benefitting from, the systems that lead to poverty. Lord, help me to give, not because I’m better than anyone, but because that is why you give your gifts in the first place.
And Lord, teach me to hold loosely to all that I have, so that when it is needed by another I will let it pass freely from me to them.
Life is better together,