Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid…”
The phrase “do not be afraid” appears quite often in the Scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments. It is quite rare, however, for those words to be spoken by a human being. The first such occurrence happens in Genesis 35:17 when Rachel’s midwife tell her to “do not be afraid” just before she died during the birth of Benjamin, who she named Ben-oui which means “son of my sorrow.” Later in Genesis, as Joseph forgives his brothers for what they did to him, he admonishes them to “have no fear” (Genesis 50:19, 21). Twice, Moses speaks to a terrified Hebrew people. He tells them, “do not be afraid” on the edge of the Red Sea the Egyptian army rapidly approaches (Exodus 14:13). Later, at the foot of Mount Sinai, the people are convinced that hearing the voice of God will be their end, but Moses assures them, “Do not be afraid” (Exodus 20:20).
In Sunday’s Track 2 Old Testament lesson, we once again hear these words, this time from the lips of the prophet Elijah to the Widow at Zerephath. Mind you, we’re in the midst of a three-year long drought that Elijah predicted. The creeks are dried up, the crops are failing in the fields, and the stockpiles of flour and oil are at critically low levels. In her own words, this woman is preparing one last meal for her and her son. Food supplies might be critically low, but fear is in abundance as Elijah rolls into town looking for a nosh, and he has the audacity to tell this woman, “Do not be afraid.”
That’s what God’s kingdom is all about: trust over fear. I love Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, especially his rendering of “blessed are the poor in spirit.” “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule” (Matthew 5:3, MSG). The Widow was at the end of her rope and her grip was slipping fast when God’s messenger arrived with words of comfort and a miracle of abundance. How often in your life have you found yourself nearing the end of your rope when all of a sudden just the right person appears on your doorstep? Maybe it was an old friend with an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on. Maybe it was a community of faith that let you have the space you needed to get right with God. Maybe it was a priest or an LEM who brought you the bread and wine just when you needed it most.
As disciples of Jesus, we are sometimes called to be that comforting presence of God. Other times, we might be in desperate need of it. Thankfully, there are people like Rachel’s midwife, Joseph, Moses, and Elijah who can offer four simple words, “do not be afraid.”