When mothers weep from hunger, we can do something

Elijah Receiving Bread from the Widow of Zarephath by painter Giovanni Lanfranco via Wikimedia Commons.

By Stephen H. Padre

For churches that use the Revised Common Lectionary, yesterday’s readings included two passages in which mothers weep for their children. In 1 Kings 17:8-24, God tells Elijah to go to Zarephath and meet up with a widow there. The widow and her son are in a desperate situation. In the latter part of the story, the son essentially dies from an illness, and through Elijah, God brings him back to life. In the day’s Gospel reading, Luke 7:11-17, Jesus is also traveling. In a town called Nain, he runs into a widow whose only son has died. Likewise, Jesus raises the son from the dead.

Two widows, two mothers weeping. In biblical times, women in these situations were headed toward an uncertain future. In those patriarchal societies, it was the responsibility of men to support their wives and mothers. These two women were about to be left with no men in their lives to care for them.

Many centuries later, gender roles have evolved, and many women who are alone are better able to support themselves and their children. But many women and mothers still live in desperate situations. And they still weep.

There’s a single mother in Chicago working two jobs who weeps because she still cannot feed her family. She weeps because she barely sees her children.

There’s a grandmother in Zambia raising HIV-positive twin babies because their parents died of AIDS. She weeps because she must work hard to grow the food she and her other family members need, and the weather doesn’t always cooperate.

This week, Bread activists are coming to Washington, D.C., to speak to their members of Congress in person about mothers and children, two groups that are most vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition. Bread activists who can’t come to the nation’s capital are calling or emailing their members of Congress with the same message. That message is that the federal government can do its part to end hunger and malnutrition in the U.S. and abroad during our time. It has the authority and resources to make sure everybody has enough to eat to live healthy, active lives. And it has the means to do it through the legislation it passes to allocate funds and change policies.

In the story from 1 Kings 17, Elijah also demonstrates God’s abundance. The widow has very few supplies, yet Elijah says to her, “The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth” (verse 14). When she starts baking bread, “she as well as he and her household ate for many days” (verse 15).

The lectionary offers two choices for Psalm responses for the day. Both provide truths: God gives “food to those who hunger” (Psalm 146:6), and God has “turned my mourning into dancing” (Psalm 30:12).

We see from these biblical stories that God values life. Often God needs to use people like Elijah to bring life to people. We know that food brings life and health to every person. God is asking to use us this week to bring life and health to people, especially mothers who weep and their children. Are you available for God to use you? Can you be there for God to turn the weeping of mothers into a celebration?

Stephen H. Padre is Bread’s managing editor.

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