A New Community Pt 2: The Power of Possessions
Elijah had a tough job - he was essentially the bearer of bad news. Hearing from Elijah was like hearing from the IRS or the CRA, or like listening to a microphone that won't stop spouting feedback. When God's people were unfaithful, when they served other gods and didn't uphold God's vision of justice (care for the orphan, the widow, the foreigner), Elijah would admonish and warn God's people of the impending consequences and invoke them to change their ways.
Like you would expect, considering his line of work, Elijah developed a few enemies, one of them being Queen Jezebel. Jezebel was the daughter of the king of the Sidonians. She married Ahab, the king of God's people, who is notorious for leading people astray and building altars to other gods. During Ahab's reign, Elijah challenges false prophets (prophets of the other god) to a kind of duel that ends in the false prophets' death. When Jezebel finds out, she threatens to kill Elijah.
At another point in Elijah's journey, God sends him to ask a widow for help during a drought. If you haven't read my previous post about Elijah and the widow's story, Elijah vulnerably asks the widow (who is a stranger to him) for food and water. The widow not only shares what she has but gives him her and her son's last meal. In their giving and receiving, they access the abundance - the little food she has continues to last and feed all three of them. Interestingly, Elijah must rely on a widow in the region of Sidon to take care of him - the region where his enemy is from.
As if giving sacrificially and receiving help weren't uncomfortable enough, can you imagine doing so with your enemy or someone associated with your enemy? How about someone you blocked on social media because you couldn't stand to read their posts any longer? Or your neighbor whose dog won't stop barking in the middle of the night? Or your coworker who never does their job right and blames you for it?
We all know that in our world, possessions create and reinforce division. I lived most of my life in Fresno, California, a city known for having the second-highest concentrated poverty in the United States. Meaning, in Fresno, people who live below the poverty line live in specific neighborhoods, go to different schools, breathe different air, shop at different grocery stores, etc. In this story, however, needs and possessions break down barriers rather than create them - the widow was from the same region as Queen Jezebel, who wanted Elijah's head on a stick. Elijah and the widow give and receive help from someone different from them, someone with different ideologies, and from other regions. The story reminds me of the many people and families in Fresno (and other cities around the world) who intentionally move to areas of concentrated poverty - people who turn their front yards and garages into shared community spaces, neighbors who tear down their backyard fence to host a "teen night" on Friday nights.
Like Elijah and the widow, we're all trying to survive a drought (I recognize everyone's circumstances are different). I believe how well we survive this and the type of people we become because of it may well depend on our willingness to give and receive and do so with people we may not have imagined we could or would want to. As we continue to live and transition out of a season of ongoing suffering, grief, and loss, where the needs seem to overwhelm what most people are willing to offer and share, this story provides us a new vision of community.
To use Willie Jennings' language, will we surrender to this "radical new order in the holy work of giving where possessions are broken of their boundary-making power and people are drawn toward one another in and through mutual and interlocking needs?" (Acts: A Theological Commentary on the Bible, 52)
Like our current situation, the challenging aspects of this story generate an opportunity for relationships to flourish and deepen. In this season, I'm convinced that the Spirit not only wants to provide for needs through community but use them to draw people into a new kind of community, offering a way through the ideologies and social constructs that often divide us.
Will we allow the Spirit to unite us under the vision God has for the world - one where every persons' needs are met with the abundance God entrusted to us, the abundance God entrusted us to share? Are you willing to set aside what is comfortable, your "rights," and what you believe to be true for the life and humanity of others and for your own life and humanity?
If we open our hands, we may find more than an abundance of resources. We could receive an abundance of community, which might be what we need more than anything.