I reached up onto the tip of my toes, stretching my arm for the last bottle of Olive Oil on the shelf. This was liquid gold. It’s all I had left, what am I going to do with this small amount of oil? This wasn’t enough to keep my children and myself nourished. This season had been scorched by the sun. No rain, clouds or moisture of any kind. My boys tried as hard as they could to get something to flourish in the sand – but nothing prevailed. We barely had wheat of our own, let alone crop to share at market. I looked around my small home in disbelief. The shelves looked as barren as my heart. I was alone, waves of grief washed over my body as I clutched the small vessel. “He left us, how did we get here? How did this happen? I cannot pay our debts, I cannot speak in the courts to defend myself, I have no wealth, no husband to protect me, I have to do this all alone. Why? Why Lord?”
I sat as my mind raced, “what if I did this?” or, no, maybe it would be better if I did this?, could we run? how far would we get on no food? Would we be thrown in prison? What if I offered to work for someone – then who will care for my children?” I cannot do this alone, Lord, my husband was a good man, he served you with His whole heart – where are you?” I felt the heat drip down my back as I hunched over the oil on the small stool, the dry air blew in from the window. So this is what it feels like to be at the end of oneself?
The knock on the door startled me out of my trance. The knock, more like pounding, came with an anger and violence. “Jouri, open the door! This isn’t going to go away. Let us come in and speak with you, we will be back everyday until you pay.” I cracked the door open slightly, not revealing the hearth in my home. “Jouri, your husband owed us money, this is due to us, and if you do not pay you will lose everything. No more warnings.” My voice cracked, my temple leaned against the edge of the door, as I whispered, “I just need more time” … “We will be back tomorrow, you’ve forced our hand, your sons will be taken into custody tomorrow for your debt, and you will be next. The law states, you will work off your payments until the authorities see fit to release you. You may not be in the same work house as your children, you’ll need to prepare and say good-bye. It’s over Jouri.” I closed the door before they had a chance to see the tears pour from my eyes, I would not give them the satisfaction. I slid down the doorway in complete despair, hugging my knees into my chest, I lowered my head and let out the deep sobs of a destitute woman. “I’ve lost everything.”
That night was a whirlwind of worry and night terrors. “Adonai – tell me what to do! Where are you? I need to see your almighty hand at work. The power of your faithful love. Help me”
Elisha. Remember your husband worked with the other prophets under Elisha. I could go to him, I will not leave until he agrees to help me.
Before the sun was up, I placed my covering over my hair and gently closed the door behind me. The dawn swallowed me whole as I made my journey toward this powerful man known as Elisha. I remember the stories my husband told me about his work, this mans tenacity, power and kindness. He knew he was of the Lord and wanted others to know God’s power as well. My beloved told me of the chills he would feel as this man prophesied the truth – there was nothing like it.
I walked into the temple and was met by Elisha’s assistant. He led me to the place where Elisha prayed. As soon as he turned to me I hit my knees to the ground and pleaded. “Sir, you worked with my husband – he was a prophet who followed you, among other prophets. He trained with you. He is gone now and I am unable to pay his debts, please sir, they are coming even now to take my sons away and make them slaves to pay for his debt. I will be alone, with nothing and no one to help grant security. What can you say to me? Where is Adonai?”
His voice felt comforting, smooth and confident: “Jouri” “Wait? How did he know my name?”, He continued, “what exactly do you have in your house right now? Something you can produce? Create or cook?”
“Olive oil”, I said. “That’s all, sir it is the smallest vessel of oil, not even enough for my own family.”
“That’s more than enough. Here’s what I want you to do: return to your home, as quick as you can and ask your sons to help you collect as many jars as possible. Ask your neighbors to donate whatever they can spare. Then pour the oil into each jar, until there is no more oil to pour.”
“I don’t understand, the oil will not even be a few drops for each jar.”
“Just go, and follow each direction. Come back when you have done this.”
I got up from my place in front of this man, and walked as fast as I could down the path back toward my empty home…
I have read this story over and over for the past two weeks. I imagined myself in it, the desperation, fear, loss and hopelessness. I know she was feeling all of those things. When a woman is pushed with her back against the wall and everything stripped from her – the intense fear can be paralyzing for us.
As I’ve been reading through the book of Luke and watching for my Shepherd’s voice; I noticed something. His heart for the woman. As Jesus is preaching to those nearby, he references two women who were helped by Elisha in a time of extreme anguish. Women of famine.
Each woman stricken by injustice in her own way. One, a widow whose husband was in deep debt, the responsibility now fell to her and because she could not pay; her sons would be sold into slavery, leaving her without a home, security, and the ability to live safely. She had nothing in her home except a simple jar of olive oil. That sounds familiar doesn’t it?
So many of us have suffered financial abuse from the man who claimed to love us. He hid accounts from us, borrowed and spent money without our knowledge, and if your story is like mine, opened up accounts in your name without telling you. We as women are often left to clean up the mess of deceit. Leaving us feeling a slave to our circumstance. We pinch pennies, get a second job, we do our best to survive. Some of us needing to work instead of retiring, just to make it. It feels desperate, hopeless and wrecked.
Jesus, while speaking told of another woman. Living in her own famine, a famine of loss. The loss of her hope that she may ever have children. See, she was an older woman – past the point of being able to conceive. The words say that she was married to a man of status. She knew that Elisha often past through her area and graciously she built a guest home, just for him.
Despite her pain of never having children, this woman generously gave of what she did have. I’m sure her heart was brimming with love and nurturing and yet, she had limited places to put this love. I bet she channeled this energy into giving to others as best she could. This is evident in her hospitality towards Elisha.
Both of these women’s lives were changed forever when Elisha touched them through the power given to him by God. The widow, sold the olive oil that brimmed over from jar to jar – she had enough to pay her debts and keep her family together. The woman experiencing a life with no child, gave birth to a son! When he passed away from illness Elisha came and raised him back to life. In the midst of great famine of the soul, both of these women witnessed a miracle. These women moved from famine to feast.
At some point in our lives we will all be women of famine. Most of us have already lived in the famine, maybe for years. What struck me about this story Jesus told is the women. Both an outcast in society. To the charitable woman, a child would mean security and welfare. A widow with sons meant security and welfare. Without these, both women would have been destitute for the remainder of their lives.
The other unique things about these women: they did not live among their fellow Jews. The widow lived in another town outside Israel, she was considered a Gentile. The dignitaries wife was not a Jew, this was significant – her husband was a foreign diplomat. Why would Elisha, a prophet who foreshadowed the coming prophet Jesus who would heal and save, meet the needs of women OUTSIDE of those who kept the laws of Torah?
Because Jesus sees the outsider. He goes to the one who is broken, alone, desperate, and hopeless. He sees the women living in famine of the soul. He is FOR the women of famine.
Jesus made this declaration: “Jesus heard about it and spoke up, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I’m here inviting outsiders, not insiders—an invitation to a changed life, changed inside and out.” Luke 5:31
Can you imagine?! When we are women of famine, because of the betrayal from family system, church and marriage, our brains and bodies adapt, we adapt for survival, safety and escape. Many of us leave our systems left with our own addictions to food, pornography and masturbation, an affair, drugs, shopping. We are left feeling voiceless, small, ashamed, unworthy, beat up, neglected and utterly alone.
Jesus CHOOSES the women of famine. HE WENT AFTER THEM! Not just when he was here on Earth among us – but long ago, sending an anointed man, Elisha to seek out these women, come alongside their DESPERATE faith and confirm that THEY ARE CHOSEN – he wanted THEM. The outsider and the forgotten. The beat down and fatigued. The childless, homeless, penniless and abused.
I tear up as I write this, knowing that Jesus wants ME, even in my own state of famine.
In this passage of Luke, there was one more woman of famine. Famine of wellness. Simon’s mother was gravely ill – trapped in her own hell, a slave to the pounding of her flesh. She could not leave her bed. The famine of sickness hurts our spirit doesn’t it?
Breast cancer, pneumonia, virus… when our internal systems shut down, we feel frustrated and alone. From the time I began my marriage to the end of 11 years, I had extreme weight loss, weight gain, and chronic illness and thyroid dysfunction. I was never well. We often carry the scars of famine in our bodies long after we have entered new-found safety.
Jesus went after the woman in bondage to her health. The famine in her body, stripping away her spirit.
Do you know what happened next? The way in which he healed her, caused her to get up, prepare a feast and begin to serve Jesus and family. Her healing, turned into a party! Others began to bring their sick and there in her living room – Jesus laid hands on them and they were healed.
Because of this woman’s testimony her famine turned into feast, not only for her but for her community! She poured out from the healing she received.
Women, this is us! We have been women of famine, but we can become women of feast! Jesus comes after us and he saves a place for us at His table.
Do you know how other’s responded to the RADICAL concept? They were furious, they gathered around him, and tried to push him off a cliff! They could not stand the message of truth he brought to the community. His response? He held his head high, completely emotionally detached, and walked right on past – unhindered by their objections and violence. He was SO SURE of His truth that other people’s opinions did not sway his resolve.
God invites us into his FEAST and it takes a brave soul to journey to that place. We will come against those who try to stop us from leaving an abuser, and other’s who will criticize our decisions. We may be harmed by the flying monkeys, parental alienation and the falsehoods dragging our name through the mud.
With all that dirt – WE ARE STILL THE CHOSEN. WE are invited into the feast. Elisha and Jesus said to all these women, “Your faith is amazing, it has healed you.” I don’t imagine much strength left in these women due to their anguish, yet all they did was say, “please help”. Someone has probably told you that you have no faith or that you are hard-hearted. You may beat yourself up because you think you aren’t a good enough “Christian” or you must be doing something wrong because you cannot hear from the Lord.
You listen to me right now, you gorgeous woman – YOU HAVE THE GREATEST FAITH OF ALL! To simply say, “Jesus, help!” Begins the process of turning from a woman of famine, to a woman of feast!
What I have seen from my life is that the more I cry out in my desperation, the more my feasting pours out onto my community around me. The signs, wonders and miracles, just as these women experienced through Elisha and Jesus, cause a ripple effect around me. It invites others to take part at the table with Jesus.
We all want to witness a miracle and I believe YOU are the miracle, and so am I. Keep crying out in your times of famine, and I promise, you will see the feast that has been prepared for you!
You are not alone.