This coming Sunday’s first reading (I Kings 17: 8-24) evoked for me the scenes of the 1948 movie, “I remember Mama.” Based on a novel by Kathryn Forbes, titled “Mama’s Bank Account,” the movie was about the trials and tribulations of a Norwegian immigrant family set in San Francisco about the year 1910 as they struggled with the issues of poverty and hunger. Every week, Mama, played by Irene Dunne, sat down and counted the available money in the jar. Would there be enough? Miraculously, every week there was enough, and Mama announced that it was sufficient that she would not have to go to the bank. Presumably, the children thought, her purpose of going to the bank would have been to withdraw some money from the savings account to make ends meet. But in reality, there was no bank account, there was no safety net. All that there was for their use was the contents of the jar. Years later, as one of the daughters, Katrin, reminisces about the strength of her Mama, she realized that this weekly ritual, and the comment about going to the bank was solely to help the children feel less stressed and less insecure about the tensions and the stresses that Mama pretty much kept to herself while she and her husband struggled to provide for her family week to week.
So the man of God, Elijah, asks for a little water so that he might have a drink, and a little bread. But the widow of Zarephath responds that she has no bread, only a little oil; only a little flour. She’s out gathering sticks so that she might make a little fire so that she and her son might eat it as a last meal together: “I am gathering the sticks, so that we might eat it and die.”
Of course, this part of the story is a reminder to us about how it is that the grace of God provides, even when circumstances seem hopeless. Mama from the movie finds the money in the can; with the grace of God the widow of Zarephath finds miraculously that the oil does not fail and the flour does not give out.
What has this to do with us today?
It seems to me that human nature tends to look at what is not, rather than celebrating what is. We all do this. The glass is generally half-empty; the gas tank is only half-full. There’s barely enough. Whether it is the residue of the hunter/gather gene from ancient man, or whether it is the fact that more people were raised in families where the seconds was always gravy bread than most care to admit, I don’t know. But what I do know is that the challenge of the Gospel is that we eventually are challenged to give up the “lets gather up a couple of sticks, make one meal so that we can die mentality” and move to one that is a celebration of the way that grace surrounds us on every side. You see, ultimately, while this has a practical dimension, it also has the spiritual dimension. And the truth is that you will never find true happiness if all you can see is the profound lack rather than the provision of God.