She was a single mother, a widow who had no one to support her, no family to give her status in the community, no way to earn a living in those ancient times, no rain in all of Israel for months. The fields were dry and the crops ruined, and with her total lack of resources she had almost nothing to call her own. Add to that, she had a son, a young boy who needed every calorie, every speck of nourishment she could cram into his mouth, yet she had nothing.
On her doorstep arrives a man--not just any man, but the prophet of God, Elijah--the man who had called down heaven's flame on the priests of Baal, the one who had defied the forces of evil in Israel, and he was on her doorstep. As if to add insult to injury, this powerful man was asking for something to eat, a meal to be set before him because he was hungry. Did he not know that she had almost nothing? Did he not know that she was even then preparing the last bit of ground meal and the last few drops of oil to make just one measly cake for her and her son? Didn't he know that it was, for all intent and purpose, their last meal? And here he was, asking for something to eat!
When this desperate woman explained all this to the prophet of God, his response was totally surprising. "God doesn't work that way!!" And even as his words slowly registered, and even as he insisted that she prepare a full meal of cakes for both him and herself and her boy, her jar of meal was full and the flagon of oil nearly overflowed. And the prophet stayed, making himself at home, sleeping and eating and praying in her poor dwelling, and the meal jar stayed full and the level of oil in the flagon never went down.
But there was one more difficult challenge for this poor woman to navigate: her boy got sick and it was the kind of illness where it was obvious that he was near death. The grieving mother took her anxiety and deep sense of anger at losing the only person in the world who loved her out on the prophet. After all, he had brought this trouble to her door. Without him, she and her son could have quietly died and all this grief and hurt would have been behind them. Again Elijah responded in a surprising way: "God doesn't work that way." And he doesn't. The prophet prayed and the son lived, hale and hardy.
And here is the lesson: first, we will never, in our limited human capacity, ever plumb the depths of our own persons much less ever figure out the plan and purposes of God. But we can know with a surety, that God never works for our loss, never works for our hurt, but always works everything toward our good--a good that means that we grow more and more into the kind of people that God designed us to be, more and more into a community of giving and caring people that is pleasing to God and to ourselves, and a good that means that we are conduits of grace to others, just as the prophet was to that lonely and desperate single mother. Evil does enter into our lives and the residual of that evil often lingers, but God's supreme plans and purposes are always to " . . . work it all together for our good to those who are the called according to his purposes."
“Lord Jesus, in your mercy, heal us;
In your love and tenderness, remake us.
In your compassion, bring grace and forgiveness,
For the beauty of heaven, may your love prepare us.”
-- Anselm of Canterbury, 11th Century