ECONOMICS OF FAITH
For thus says the LORD the God of Israel, ‘The jar of meal shall not be spent, and the cruse of oil shall not fail, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’” 1 Kings 17:14
ECONOMICS is nothing more than the study of how to allocate scarce resources most efficiently, or in plain English, how to get the most bang for our buck; and whether we realize it or not we make economic decisions all day long. Like so many Robinson Crusoes we all have a priority list for maintaining and improving our circumstances, and we spend our days allocating our limited resources to fulfilling it. At the top of the list are food, shelter and clothing. Once those are satisfied our list expands and we use up our remaining time and energy in getting the most for the least.
Of necessity we are all economists, but God is not, He does not have to be. He can waste all the time He likes because He is eternal, and all the resources He likes because he is almighty, so nothing is scarce to Him. With a word He can bring vast universes to life, and with nothing more than some sticks and water, flour and oil He can feed His children even in the middle of a famine. This is the comforting lesson we learn in today’s Old Testament text.
It was a bad time for Israel when Elijah lived, about 850 years before the birth of Christ. Under the influence of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel Israel left her First Love, the dear Husband who rescued her from slavery and made her His own radiant bride. She broke her holy communion with the Lord and whored after as many gods as Jezebel could supply, and there seemed to be no bottom to her infidelity! Even so we learn from the sacred record that God was patient with her in the extreme, that he forgave her transgressions and over-looked her sins far beyond the bounds that reason would dictate, but finally the time came to act, to get her attention before it was too late, before she passed the point of no return, and He sent Elijah to do the job. We don’t know much about this mighty prophet, but like Christ whom he foreshadowed, he suddenly appears in the fullness of time to speak God’s Word and to do battle with the forces of evil, before ascending into heaven alive.
His first official act was to declare a drought in the land. He told King Ahab that there would be no more rain until the people repented of their sins and proved the sincerity of their faith by living lives of humble service to God and man. It took three and a half years, but if something good came out this train wreck it was that the LORD sent Elijah to the town of Zarephath, to a helpless widow who was in the act of exhausting her last morsel before she and her son would lie down and die in sorrow. That was her fate except for one intervening factor: the word of the LORD that Elijah spoke. Though there was a drought in the land the first thing he did was to ask her for some water; and then as if to make the difficult impossible he presses her for a bite to eat as well. He did not do it to drive her over the edge, however, but to teach her a great lesson, that with God there is no scarcity – and what was true then is still so today, that even in a famine God will always feed His people.
We should remember this well because by all appearances the world is sinking into depression, and famine may soon be coming to a town near you. And the only way tiny faiths such as ours can bear up is by leaning on the promises of God, such as the ones we learn here, and in today’s gospel lesson as well where Jesus assures us that if God feeds the birds of the air, who neither plant, nor reap nor store in barns, He will all the more care for us whatever the challenge may be, but there’s another reason this lesson is so important: because God still uses these same elements – sticks, flour, water and oil – to feed the souls of those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.
In today’s Old Testament lesson we perceive a prophecy of the coming Christ and the salvation that He obtained for us by His suffering and death. The sticks correspond to the cross on which our Lord died in order to atone for the sins of the world. Like Israel of old we too have a roaming eye, a penchant for other gods. We too spend our lives like anxious gentiles, seeking the maximum pleasure for the least amount of trouble; so more than any other thing we need to have our sins continually washed away.
The water is baptism which binds us to Christ, and makes us heirs of every blessing.
The flour is the bread that Jesus blessed, broke and gave to His disciples with the words: take eat this is my body which is given for you for the forgiveness of sins. By His command the church repeats that blessing even today so that otherwise dying sinners might eat it and live.
The oil is faith. Without it no man can please God, but with it every promise God ever spoke becomes ours. We were given faith in baptism and it is strengthened in us whenever we receive the gifts of God in Christian worship.
And finally there is the Word of God and the sacraments which our Lord instituted. Without these the Lord’s Sacrifice would do us no good because we would have no way to know it or believe it, but as it is, these divinely appointed means transmit the full benefits of our Lord’s life, death and resurrection to us, and they will never run dry until the last sinner is safely on heaven’s shore.
One of the objections that scoffers over the centuries have raised against the Holy Eucharist is that if it truly were the body of Christ that it would long ago have been exhausted and Christ would no longer exist, but these are people who have never read today’s Old Testament lesson in which Elijah says, “the jar of meal shall not be spent, and the cruse of oil shall not fail," and who have never sung the words of today’s communion hymn which says in verse six, “Human reason though it ponder, cannot fathom this great wonder: that Christ’s body e’er remaineth, though it countless souls sustaineth.”
Yes, our needs are great for both body and soul, and our resources few, so let us join our hearts and voices in great thanksgiving today that: with God there is no scarcity; and that He feeds His people with food for the body and food for the soul and will never cease to do so. Amen.
~Rev. Dean Kavouras