“A jar that does not go empty; a jug that does not run dry” | Homily of the Minister General for the Opening of the PCO

“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 Elijah and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry…” (1 Kings 17: 14-16).

My dear brothers, the Lord give you peace!

What a great joy it is for us to gather here in this chapel where daily the people of God – and most especially the Franciscan sisters who live and work here – receive confirmation of the bounteous love of God for them and for us, the promise that if we are faithful to the Covenant relationship established by God with God’s people, never shall we experience hunger or thirst. Never shall our jars go empty nor our jugs run dry!

The reading from the Book of Kings reveals a very difficult moment in the prophetic ministry of Elijah, a man who shamed and challenged the royal and priestly classes to return with humility, authenticity, and hope to the demands of the Covenant. Famine in the regions of the two divided kingdoms added to the crisis. The Covenant demands required that they forsake all that was not of God: all that did not lead to an authentic life that was grounded in love of God and of neighbor. The demands also meant they were to reject economic and political structures and practices that were misguided by greed, accumulation, turning these things into new forms of idolatry, a ‘political and religious agenda’ pursued by Jezebel, the queen. The Covenant people had allowed political and economic ambitions, and accommodation to religious and cultural practices without keeping a critical judgment about what might be good and also what might be bad for their human and spiritual lives. They had allowed God of the Covenant to be pushed to the periphery, placing Baal worship at the center. Whenever this happened to the Covenant people, they found themselves in crisis; social inequalities and marginalization came raging to the forefront, leading to all forms of conflict and injustice, and even the natural environment reacted with famines and plagues.

It is within this context of the decline of authentic faith, justice, and hope that the story of an encounter between Elijah, the prophet of God, and the poor, hopeless widow and her dying son is told. Elijah, running for his life, meets a woman who also is running for her life and the life of her son as they faced imminent death from starvation. So desperate was her situation that she had given up not only on the possibility of life but also on the promise of God whom she felt no longer listened to her cries for mercy. Elijah tests her with his demand for something to drink and to eat. Bound by the sacred duties of hospitality typical of Middle Eastern culture then and now, she offered the last crumbs of bread, the last drop of oil, and the last cup of water that she possessed. Perhaps this simply confirmed what she already believed: she and her son would not live to see another sunrise or sunset. But in a turn of events, Elijah reassures her that God never abandons the people. God is listening to those who are open to allowing God’s miracle to transpire in their lives, those who are willing to abandon all for the sake of keeping God at the center of their lives. This story, however, points to a larger reality. It seeks to inspire, to re-awaken, and to challenge the people of the Covenant to return to God, the God of Abraham, Miriam, of Isaac and Rebecca. They are called once again to abandon the new conditions of slavery they have created with and for one another, their new Egypt, and to return to the God, the one who ‘brought you up from the land of slavery,’ and into the new land of freedom. I am reminded of a contemporary song used in our Catholic liturgies, which speaks to the heart of the message of the readings at the beginning of our Plenary Council of the Order:

“We walk by faith and not by sight; no gracious words we hear from Him who spoke as none e’er spoke, but we believe Him near. Help then, O Lord, our unbelief, and may our faith abound,  To call on you when You are near, and seek where You are found.”

 

My dear Brothers, the message of the Scriptures for each of us and for the entire Order is clear: if we return to God; if he once again becomes the center of our lives, the center of our fraternities and our Order – the same promise of the prophet Elijah will also come true for us: our jars will never be empty, nor shall our jugs ever run dry!God will transform our despair, our concerns about the future of the Order, the Church, and the world into a new song of hope, and a renewed sense of mission. Take courage, my Brothers, for God is here! Let us begin!

Nairobi, Kenya
June 12, 2018