The widow and stores of love


“For the LORD, the God of Israel, says,
‘The jar of flour shall not go empty,
nor the jug of oil run dry,
until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.'”
She left and did as Elijah had said.
She was able to eat for a year, and he and her son as well;
the jar of flour did not go empty,
nor the jug of oil run dry,
as the LORD had foretold through Elijah.” (I Kings 17)

In this reading, a widow offers the visiting Elijah a little water when he is thirsty. When Elijah asks for something to eat, however, the widow is short. She has only a little flour and oil left in her cupboard. Instead of turning him away, however, the widow offers to give what she has. And Elijah assures her, that there will be plenty for her and for her family, enough to last her for a full year. God’s action offers her abundance.

To me, this is a story about how Love works. All of us go through times in our lives where we might feel “short” on love–times of stress, or loss, or grief, or illness. The temptation when we are short on love might be to ask someone else to fill it up. Or we might shut down others and keep them away from our “stores”, to hold on tightly to whatever it is that we still possess. Often people act for the sake of their own security, whether it is holding onto material possessions, or staying with what is safe and familiar.

The widow acts differently, however: she gives away what little she has. She has next to nothing, but she does not think about her own security. She thinks about how she might feed and nourish another. Even though her stores are apparently empty, she still gives away from what she has, and the paradoxical result is that her supply increases. This is how love works, how God’s love works in and through us. The more that we give away our love and care to others, without neediness and also without self-protectiveness, the more God refills and replenishes the love that we have to give away.

Like the rain with which the Lord waters the earth, the care and love that we receive unconditionally from God, who waters all with generosity, restores and renews us. God is the source of all of our loves, big and small. We can fearlessly give ourselves away to others, knowing that it is in “giving that we receive and in dying that we are born to eternal life” (Prayer of St Francis).