By Erica Barnhill
2 Kings 4: 1-7 and Luke 9:10-17
When one encounters miracle stories in the Bible, it is remarkably easy to focus on whatever the miracle produces (whether wine or healing or a calmed sea) or get caught up in the “how?” (How did the burning bush burn without being consumed? How did the Israelites cross the Red Sea? How did Jesus walk on water?) However, lurking around the edges of these two miracles of abundance — the iconic loaves and fishes story from Luke and the less-familiar 2 Kings account of Elisha and the widow — is a less obvious but equally compelling tale of generosity and community.
Elisha’s first instruction to the widow is to borrow vessels from her neighbors to fill with oil. Jesus tells the disciples to first make the crowd of thousands sit down in groups of about fifty each. Both directives compelled otherwise unrelated people to interact with and rely on one another, creating common ground and a shared stake in the outcome. Until that moment, no one in either story had any reason to share their scarce resources, and every reason to hoard them. Feeding the multitudes in Luke, we are told, occurs “in a deserted place” where there is no food to be had — yet the people sit down. The widow in 2 Kings is so destitute that a creditor is about to take her children to repay a debt — yet she borrows vessels as Elisha instructs. By sitting down to a meal together or lending a vessel for oil, the individuals in the stories are compelled to open their hearts to others. After all, it’s a lot harder to walk uncaring past the poor widow after you’ve let her borrow your stew pot; it’s also harder to club a guy over the head for the last piece of fish when he’s not just an anonymous face in an enormous crowd.
The miracle here isn’t that God conjures oil or bread or fish out of nothingness; that’s just the flashy part. The miracle is in the moment when an individual musters the faith to overcome fear and self-interest and say “yes” to God. The miracle is in looking beyond oneself to care for others. The miracle is in the lending of vessels, in the receiving of vessels, in the small groups clustered together in the desert, in sharing freely with strangers.
The miracle is love.
Almighty God, help me to embody the everyday miracle of Your love by loving and caring for others.Amen.