Saint John Chrysostom on Prophet Elias and the Widow of Sarepta

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What shall we say of the widow in the Old Testament in the time of the prophet Elias? For the risk she ran was not of poverty, but even of death and extinction, and not her own only, but her children’s too. For neither had she any expectation of receiving from others, but of presently dying. ‘But,’ says one, ‘she saw the prophet, and that made her munificent.’ But do not ye see saints without number? And why do I speak of saints? You see the Lord of the prophets asking an alms, and yet not even so do ye become humane; but though you have coffers spewing one into another, do not even impart of your superfluity. What do you say? Was he a prophet that came to her, and did this persuade her to so great a magnanimity? This of itself deserves much admiration, that she was persuaded of his being a great and wonderful person. For how was it she did not say, as it would have been likely that a barbarian woman and a foreigner would have reasoned, ‘If he were a prophet, he would not have begged of me. If he were a friend of God, He would not have neglected him. Be it that because of sins the Jews suffer this punishment: but whence, and wherefore, does this man suffer?’ But she entertained none of these thoughts; but opened to him her house, and before her house, her heart; and set before him all she had; and putting nature on one side and disregarding her children, preferred the stranger unto all. Consider then how great punishment will be laid up for us, if we shall come behind and be weaker than a woman, a widow, poor, a foreigner, a barbarian, a mother of children, knowing nothing of these things which we know! For because we have strength of body, we are not therefore manly persons. For he alone has this virtue, yea though he be laid upon his bed, whose strength is from within; since without this, though a man should tear up a mountain by his strength of body, I would call him nothing stronger than a girl or wretched crone. For the one struggles with incorporeal ills, but the other dares not even look them in the face. And that you may learn that this is the measure of manliness, collect it from this very example. For what could be more manly than that woman who both against the tyranny of nature, and against the force of hunger, and against the threat of death, stood nobly fast, and proved stronger than all? Hear at least how Christ proclaims her. For, says He, “there were many widows in the days of Elias, and to none of them was the prophet sent but to her.” (Luke 4:25-26) Shall I say something great and startling? This woman gave more to hospitality, than our father Abraham. For she “ran” not “unto the herd,” as he, (Genesis 18:7) but by that “handful” (1 Kings 17:12) outstripped all that have been renowned for hospitality. For in this was his excellence that he set himself to do that office; but hers, in that for the sake of the stranger she spared not her children even, and that too, though she looked not for the things to come. But we, though a heaven exists, though a hell is threatened, though (which is greater than all) God has wrought such great things for us and is made glad and rejoices over such things, sink back supinely. Not so, I beseech you: but let us “scatter abroad,” let us “give to the poor” as we ought to give. For what is much and what little, God defines, not by the measure of what is given, but by the extent of the substance of him that gives. Often surely have you who cast in an hundred staters of gold offered less than he that offered but one obol, for you cast in of your superfluity. Howbeit do if but this, and you will come quickly even to greater munificence. Scatter wealth that you may gather righteousness. For along with wealth this refuses to come to us; yet through it, though not with it, it is made present to us. For it is not possible that lust of wealth and righteousness should dwell together; they have their tents apart. Do not then obstinately strive to bring things together which are incompatible, but banish the usurper covetousness, if you would obtain the kingdom. For this is the [rightful] queen, and of slaves makes freemen, the contrary of which the other does. Wherefore with all earnestness let us shun the one and welcome the other, that we may both gain freedom in this life and obtain the kingdom of heaven, through the grace and love towards men of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Whom, to the Father together with the Holy Spirit, be glory, might, honor, now and for ever, and world without end. Amen.

Homily 19 on Second Corinthians