The Last Handful of Flour
Not too long ago at Sunday Mass, we heard of the mighty prophet Elijah encountering a poor widow. As the passage begins, the land of Israel is suffering from a drought. Elijah is sent by God to the land of Zarephath. Approaching the city gate, he sees a widow gathering sticks. We can imagine her face worn by cares, bending over with a heavy heart to pick up sticks to build a fire. Elijah asks her for a drink of water, as he is weary from his journey. As she starts to leave to fetch him water, he adds a second request—for a morsel of bread. This request hits the widow like the breaking of a dam; all the miseries she carries in her heart flow out in her response to Elijah, “As the Lord, your God, lives, I have nothing baked; there is only a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug. Just now I was collecting a few sticks, to go in and prepare something for myself and my son; when we have eaten it, we shall die” (1 Kings 17:12).
Here is a woman who is suffering greatly. She is at the end of her rope, feeling hopeless after her desperate efforts to take care of herself and her son amidst the terrible drought. Elijah's response to the widow's plight is both challenging and extraordinarily beautiful. We can imagine him moved with compassion as he realizes her situation. His prophetic heart then receives a word from the Lord for her. He steps forward and says, “Do not be afraid. Go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me. Afterwards you can prepare something for yourself and your son” (1 Kgs 17:13). What a request! Elijah could have said, “If you have any leftovers, I'd love to have them.” That would have seemed more reasonable. But instead, this strange man has appeared and asked her for the last handful of flour in her jar.
The Lord, who is fully aware of this woman's dire need, reaches out through the prophet and tenderly asks her, “Will you trust Me? Will you give Me not your leftovers but everything you have?” And then He makes her a promise, “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” (1 Kgs 17:14). We can learn a profound truth from this widow as we watch her response. She could have walked away, gone home, and baked that last bit of bread, keeping it for herself and her son. But then what? The jars would have remained empty. Instead, she does what Elijah asks. She gives him the rest of her flour and oil, all she has. She makes a powerful offering that becomes like purifying fire in her heart, clearing the debris of doubt and fear away. And she finds that the Lord is always faithful to His promises: “The jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, according to the word of the Lord spoken through Elijah” (1 Kgs 17:16).
We can imagine the incredulous joy, relief, and wonder that burst forth in her trusting heart when she awoke the next day to find the jars of flour and oil were not empty. Were they filled to the brim? Or did they provide only enough for one day's bread at a time? Either way, the seed of faith planted in the widow's heart when she chose to hold nothing back grew each day as she awoke and continued to discover the jars were not empty! How her heart must have turned to the Father, in awed gratitude for His miraculous provision. There could no longer be any doubt of His awareness of her, of His particular love and care for her and all that concerned her.
It is no different for us. Sometimes we may feel God is asking too much, that we have to hold back and keep something for ourselves or we'll die. We fear that we're alone in our need. But the truth is that the very same God who saw and took care of this widow is bending over us with a tenderness beyond our imagination. He is ready to provide what we truly need. In His boundless love for us He wants to expand our hearts, and this often happens best through the purifying fire of our very personal offerings of faith, hope, and love. Each time we gather into our hands what we hold most dear and lift them up to Him, letting go of our calculations and desire for control, our hearts become an altar. The Lord is waiting with open hands to reverently receive the loving gift of surrender that only we, personally, can give Him. He only asks for our last handful of flour so that He can return it to us later, in His time and in His wisdom, multiplied and transformed into a grace that will lead us to rejoice and praise His name.
Sr. Thérèse, CFR