How can the story of a woman who lived almost 2900 years ago be relevant to us today?
The story of a childless woman in 2 Kings (4:8-11. 14-16) – our first reading in today’s Mass – is one that I must have previously heard but I must say I cannot remember anything about it.
So, I was interested to look a little more closely.
The woman lived in a town called Shunem, about 17km south of Nazareth.
She was not aware of who the Prophet Elisha was but sensed he was a holy man.
She provided him with food whenever he passed by their house.
This woman was not poor. In fact, we are told that she is wealthy. She and her husband had the ability to construct a guest room above their house for Elisha and his servant.
Elisha rewards her generosity by telling her that she will conceive a child.
She had trouble processing this promise as her husband was quite old.
Yet, sure enough, the next year she gives birth to a son, as promised.
Nice happy story, isn’t it?
Yet, what the passage from today’s Mass leaves out is the next section in the scripture text, where the son grows up but then becomes sick and dies.
The woman asks Elisha to come and raise the boy to life again – and he does.
God reveals through the actions of the Prophet Elisha that he can do amazing things.
He can cause couples who cannot conceive to bear children.
He can raise the dead.
He does not always show a reward in the way we expect, but we can be sure that God will give a reward.
There is a lesson also from the woman – that actions of generosity to God and God’s representatives will be rewarded.
Jesus takes up this theme in the Gospel today (Matthew 10:37-42) when he says those who receive a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.
The woman from Shunen is one wonderful example of God giving a reward for generosity to a holy person.
Why is this so? Because Jesus sees people who act on God’s behalf as true representatives of God himself.
When we respect a holy person, like a prophet, we respect God.
When we give to such a person we give to God.
So, who are the prophets today?
Perhaps they are the “little ones” who Jesus also refers to in today’s Gospel.
Those neglected by others.
The forgotten people.
People who are sick, or abused, or rejected. People who are in exile from their homeland. People whose rights have been trampled.
Turn to these people with loving care and you will find Jesus.
And like the woman of Shunem 2900 years ago, God will reward you – in the way that God sees fit.