"Nothing.... Except a little oil"

A Homily
By Barry McWilliams

The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out(complained) to Elisha "Your servant my husband is dead and you know he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves." Elisha replied to her, "How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have (of value) in your house?" " Your servant has nothing there at all," she said, "except a little oil" Elisha said, "Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don't just ask for a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each one is filled, put it to one side." She left him and afterward shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, "bring me another one." But he replied, "There is not a jar left." The the oil stopped flowing. She went and told the man of God, and he said, "Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left." 2 Kings 4:1-7

Nothing ... Except a little Oil!

Long, long ago, there was a man named Elisha. He was a prophet in the Land of Israel for 55 years. We remember Elisha because of the many miracles he did. Like Elijah, who taught Him the Word of The LORD, he had been filled with God's Spirit. In fact, when Elijah went to heaven in a fiery chariot (and that's another story), Elisha had asked for a double portion of the Spirit that filled Elijah and it had been given to him. In the stories found in the Bible about Elisha are recorded double the number of miracles told concerning Elijah.

Now some of Elisha's miracles were events of national importance, after all he was the advisor to five different kings, and known far beyond the borders of Israel. But many of Elisha's miracles were done for ordianry little people like you and me and involved seemingly insignificant things, like making a axehead lost in the river float, or making some porrage poisoned with poorly chosen mushrooms safe to eat. This little homily is about one of those little miracles, and the Bible tells it's story in 2 Kings chapter 4, verses 1-7.

Now Elisha had founded a school for prophets, and was training men to be pastors and teachers of the people. After Elijah had defeated the prophets of Baal by calling fire down from heaven (that too is another story), there was a need for bringing reform to the land and teaching the people God's ways and God's Word. One of his students, a married man with two young boys, had died unexpectedly. He left behind an enormous debt, his wife was unable to repay and now the creditor was demanding, as was the custom and his rights, that the two boys be made his slaves to pay off that debt. This custom of selling the labor of children was even once a custom in our own land - Even Davy Crockett was sold by his father several times to pay off debts. (Maybe that's why he grew up tougher than a bear or alligator.)

So one day, as Elisha the prophet was going about his work in his study, this woman came to him with a complaint! It was clear she was upset, not just with the situation of her husband's death, and the impending loss of her sons, but with God for allowing this to happen. After all, as she declared to the prophet, "Your servant, my husband is dead and you know he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves." She didn't ask Elisha for anything, just stated the Facts - her husband had honored God - had he not been a hardworking studen at Elisha's School of Prophets - what good was it now!! Now the creditor as coming!!! Implied by her words, and I am sure also by the tone of her voice, which "cried out" to Elisha, is a question - why has God so unfairly allowed this to happen? Just like sometimes when unfortunate things happen in our lives, we find ourselves wondering, but not saying out loud, if God really knows or cares that we love Him.

Elisha must have been caught by surprise, with no quick or simple answer for her. After all, she made not request, just a very upset statement. So he began to explore the problem with her, as any pastor would. He calmed her down. He asked how could he help her? What did she want? What means or resources did she already have?

"Tell me, WHAT do YOU have, of value, in YOUR house?" She thought, and thought. Nothing ... nothing ... he was poor Seminary student ... nothing ... except a little flask of body oil.

Now oil had many uses in those days in Israel. It was used in lamps for light at night, it was used for cooking food, and anointing (both ceremonially and for healing the sick). If you had a lot of it, it would be worth a lot of money, but all she had was a little flask of oil.

Now perhaps the mention of the oil reminded Elisha of a miracle done by his teacher, Elijah, once when living with widow the oil and flour miraculously increased. A man of faith, he knew that faith must start with what we have - God begins there - and multiplies and uses it to accomplish His works. We tend to dwell on what we lack - but God zeroes in on what He has given to us - and will use as we believe and trust in Him.

Elisha had an idea - a test of her faith - and so he gave her a plan: "Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars (every - don't just ask for a few! Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side."

Now what he asked her to do took a lot of faith. First she had to believe him, and that God would meet her need. Then she had to act on that belief and beg and borrow jars from all her neighbors. That might have seemed seemed to be a foolish endeavor. The measure of her belief would be the number of jars she borrowed. Then buttoning up her house, she would need to fill those jars from her little tiny flask of oil.

I can imagine this scene well. with two little boys and their red wagon in tow, going door to door and borrowing jars, pots, cups, anything that would hold oil. As the wagon and their arms filled, they took them home and went to the next house. She borrowed big clay jars and little ones, cracked pots she could mend, she must have given a million reasons and excuses. She and those two little boys and that red wagon - knocked on every door in their village, until there was hardly an empty jar to be found, except in her little house. Every corner and bit of space in her little house was filled with empty pottery. The neighbors how they must have talked about her. "Why she borrowed every cracked pot I had" "Maybe she's the crackpot" Joked another. "She asked for a cup of sugar and left the sugar behind!" Everyone must have wondered what she was doing to do with those empty jars. They all knew she had nothing to put in them.

Then, obeying the prophet, she closed her doors and shuttered her windows. Why? God often works that way. Away from prying eyes, distractions. The neighbors will know God had blessed her, they don't need to know how, it is his power, not the method that matters anyway.

We are told she started pouring and the oil just kept pouring until the jars were filled and then it stopped. But I can imagine that that scene was one of sheer pandamoium. I am sure they had a plan to begin with, but the house was cluttered with pottery everywhere, and dimly lit through shuttered windows. The two boys would scramble, as only young boys can, bringing the jars to her, one by one to be filled, getting in each other's way, tripping over each other, spilling oil here and there, perhaps even dropping one there, the floor getting slippery and slipprier. Then frantically looking for the next empty jar before the one filling was filled and overflowing. And then another. and another. and then .. finally... no wait, one more! "Hurry bring another", the woman said. "There are no more empty jars!" Her son said. And then as every last jar had been filled, the flow oil just stopped!

We have to wonder what would have happened if she had only borrowed a few jars. Or if she had not somehow organized those boys for the task of filling them. Would not her lack of vision limited God's blessing on her. The gift was apportioned to the vessels appropriated to hold it. This is a lesson for us. If we believe God will bless us, we will take action to be ready to receive it, and allowing room for God to to work and receive all the the praise and glory.

We are told she went back to see Elisha the prophet. The first time she came complaining and upset. But this time she must have rushed into the room, overflowing with excitement and joy, as she excitedly told Elisha what had happened. It was as if the first oil well in the Near East had had a gusher in her living room. She could sell the oil and pay off her husband's debts. He boys would not be taken as slaves. There was so much oil, she and her boys could live on what was left. All things work towards good to those who love the Lord. Even sorrows can become springs of joy and blessings.

There is a lesson for us here about faith. We must expect God to work with what he has already given to us, but believing, we must also make room for Him to accomplish great things with it.

Isaiah 61: 3 says Jesus came to bring "the oil of joy instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of the spirit of heaviness." This little story is a parable of what God has done for each of us who believe in Him. As sinners, we owe a terrible debt to God because of our sins. We are enslaved by sin, and helpless before God. We turn to God for mercy and help. Like the woman who believed God's word, and took those risky steps of faith. She was provided the full payment by a flow of precious oil, which continued to sustain her and her children's lives. The Lord provides for us a full payment for that debt of sin we owe, through the flow of the precious blood of His son Jesus, who died for us, in our place, upon the cross. That blood, given for us on the cross, can satisfy fully God's wrath and bring us forgiveness. We must make room for it in our lives by faith. And we will continue to live on the basis of that same gift, which we received by faith.

Homily Outline: Scene 1 Widow in distress [debts incurred - unable to pay] a complaint! Husband - creditor
.. Scene 2 Goes to Elisha who asks what she has - nothing except a flask of body oil
.... Scene 2 - Believing the Prophet who offers nothing but a plan - test
.... Scene 3 - Borrowing the jars (lots of them) from neighbors - Action
.... Scene 4 - (Buttoning) Shutting up and getting ready - Action
..... Scene 5 - the Gusher! filling all the jars completely full!! -Blessings poured out
.. Scene 6 - Return to the prophet - Now what! (What do I owe you??
Scene 7 - She fullfills all her obligations [debts paid in full - surplus for life] and lives off the rest

This is a nicely balanced story: from Sitution -> a series of building actions ---> a climax -> a falling action and a Solution.

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