by Father Mike Stubbs
An unexpected recovery from serious illness can make for a great story.
We have seen that in television shows where ER physicians skillfully rescue patients from the clutches of death. Similarly, we have heard stories how God has worked miracles of healing through the intercession of a candidate for sainthood, thus paving the path to canonization.
But in all these cases, the focus goes on the agent responsible for the healing. The patient is not empha- sized. He or she is only necessary to advance the plot.
Sunday’s first reading, 1 Kgs 17:17-24, presents us with one such dramatic sto- ry. The prophet Elijah works a miracle. He has been staying with a widow in Za- rephath of Sidon. When her son falls seriously ill, Elijah heals him.
We never learn the names of the widow or her son. They remain anonymous in the story. However, the force behind the son’s miraculous healing is identified. The widow recognizes Elijah as a man of God. But as a pagan, a non-Jew, she is not familiar with the God of Israel. She does not know the name of God.
On the other hand, Elijah, in his prayer of intercession, invokes God by name: “O Lord, my God.” “Lord” in all upper case, is the convention in English translations of the Old Testament to indicate the proper name of God. Many scholars believe that this Hebrew word was pronounced “Yahweh.” “Yah” would have been a shortened form of the word.
Incidentally, the prophet’s name, “Elijah,” also means something significant in Hebrew. It is a short sentence which translates as “My God is Yah.”
In other words, even the prophet’s personal name declares his belief in the one God of Israel. And Elijah lives up to his name. He is zealous in standing up for the God of Israel and in attacking the false gods of the neighboring peoples.
The miracle that Elijah works vindicates the God of Israel as being more pow- erful than the false gods. Yahweh wields power over life and death. But the miracle also presents the God of Israel as compassionate and merciful.
In the absence of a Social Security program or a pension plan, the widow was counting on her son to provide her financial security in her old age. His death would have meant not only tragedy on an emotional level, a deep personal loss. It also would have meant certain poverty for her in her declining years.
This miracle reveals the God of Israel as a defender of orphans and widows. The Torah would repeatedly instruct the Israelites to care for these most vulnerable members of society. (For example, see Dt 10:18; 16:11; 24:19; 26:12; and 27:19.)
This miracle would show that God was not only commanding compassion from others, but also embracing that responsibility.