1 Kings 17:8-24; Luke 7:11-17
“It’s not fair!” In our class last Monday, the first remark after we read these texts was, “It’s not fair!” We spent several moments remembering those families who had recent losses which seemed not fair. It seems unfair that Jesus healed these widows’ sons, when our children, our young sisters and brothers, are allowed to die with no help from Jesus.
I’m sure the people who lived at the same time as Jesus thought the same thing. It’s not fair that he healed some people but not all people. That’s why there were such throngs surrounding him, once the words got out that he could heal the sick and repair the broken. If you weren’t in the right place at the right time, you missed out on the chance for Jesus to heal you.
Just like the people of Jesus’ time, we wonder why Jesus heals some, but not all, people.
… When we look at the healings from the point of view of the widows, we get a different view of unfairness. It was unfair that their sons should die, because that meant that they would have no home, no financial support, and they would end up living on the streets, begging.
The scriptures include strong warnings against the poor treatment of widows, orphans, and resident foreigners. Here’s one from Exodus 22:22-24.
Don’t treat any widow or orphan badly. If you do treat them badly and they cry out to me, you can be sure that I’ll hear their cry. I’ll be furious, and I’ll kill you with the sword. Then your wives will be widows, and your children will be orphans.
And another from Deuteronomy 24:17-22, making the reason even clearer. Remember how it felt to be a slave in Egypt, and treat those in need with care. Note that this is not just a recommendation; it is mentioned as a command.
17 Don’t obstruct the legal rights of an immigrant or orphan. Don’t take a widow’s coat as pledge for a loan. … 19 Whenever you are reaping the harvest of your field and you leave some grain in the field, don’t go back and get it. Let it go to the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows so that the Lord your God blesses you in all that you do. 20 Similarly, when you beat the olives off your olive trees, don’t go back over them twice. Let the leftovers go to the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows. 21 Again, when you pick the grapes of your vineyard, don’t pick them over twice. Let the leftovers go to the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows. 22 Remember how you were a slave in Egypt. That’s why I am commanding you to do this thing.
However, care for the needy is one of the commands that was – and still is -- frequently ignored by most of the culture. Widows without family willing to take them in found themselves without land, without home, without a way to support themselves.
In the stories about widows, then, Jesus was not just taking care of the needs of two specific families. He was pointing out to the onlookers – and to those who would hear the stories – that caring for the needy widows, orphans, and immigrants is important to God. If it’s important to God, it should also be important to God’s people.
It’s not fair in God’s eyes that people suffer because of human unkindness. It’s true that people will get sick and die. Accidents will happen and people will die. However, the consequences of illness and death should not be made worse by the way people are treated by those around them.
… Of course, death is not the only thing that is unfair in life. There are many situations where one group treats another unfairly. Sometimes, the unfairness of a situation leads to something better. For example:
At Luther Seminary in St Paul, MN, Jadivan Elzughbi is a Master of Arts student in the Children, Youth and Family program. He is a young Palestinian man whose father lives in Bethlehem and whose mother lives in Jerusalem. As a child, he shuttled back and forth between parents, crossing the border between Jewish Jerusalem and Palestinian Bethlehem each time. For the last ten years, this meant crossing through a gate in the 26-foot tall wall that separates the peoples.
A few years ago his travel documents were taken from him, for no apparent reason. Without travel documents, he was forced to remain in Bethlehem. He no longer had access to the fine universities in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel. His only choice was Bethlehem University.
He chose to study occupational therapy and became interested in the needs of children in wheelchairs. Although he hates sports, he grew to love sports for children in wheelchairs. He created the first Palestinian wheelchair basketball team for teenagers. It was called the Peace Team, and traveled to Belgium to compete in an international tournament.
Elzughbi discovered, because of the unfairness of the loss of his travel documents, that he had a calling to serve special needs children. His study at Luther will enhance his ability to serve children and their families.
… It is important to notice how both scripture stories end. The Elijah story ends with the widow acknowledging that he is a man of God and he speaks God’s truth. She needed the power of the divine, and Elijah brought it to her.
The Jesus story ends with people acknowledging that Jesus is indeed a great prophet. Word of his power spread quickly in the local area and far beyond.
The death of a loved one is tragic at any age. Sometimes it’s simply sad, sometimes it’s unfair. Lots of situations in life are unfair. It’s so helpful to know that Jesus cares about the sadness and the unfairness. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to be present with us whenever we need God’s presence.
For those who die, we know that because God has the power to raise these widows’ sons from death, God has the power to raise us all from death after we die.
For those who seek new life in the midst of unfairness, it is empowering to know God knows and cares about us, and always calls us to something new.
And it is a blessing to know God never leaves us alone, especially when life seems unfair.
You challenge this week is to pay attention to the ways in which life is unfair and seek to bring new life into the situation, whether it’s for yourself or for someone else, or for our community. How can you bring new life where it is needed?
Please pray with me. God of mercy, there are times when life seems so unfair. Help us to be aware of your presence in those times. And help us to find and create new life. In Jesus’ holy name, Amen