A woman found herself in a desperate situation. Her husband was dead, and her children were up for sale. She was exhausted by poverty and injustice and the only way to pay off her debts was to sell her children into slavery.She turned to where many turn when their situations seem impossible…to those who claim to be close to God. In this case, she turned to the prophet Elisha. The whole narrative can be found in 2 Kings 4:1-7.
Elisha was present in her suffering, and he listened to her sorrow. But he didn’t throw money at her problem, or preach to her or even offer financial advice. He came to her with a question that to us perhaps makes no sense at all.
And Elisha said, “What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?”
Elisha’s first response was to urge her to look around in the midst of her vulnerability, her poverty, her exploitation and identify what she had. What did she already possess? What could she bring to the table? What did she already have right in front of her?
When we are approached by those in need, it’s too easy to forget that we don’t have the answers. In fact, just maybe they are the answer that they need. Why don’t we take stock with them of all the good that they already possess? Why do we assume that we must be the saviors with the answers they seek?
The widow found a jar of oil, a starting point. Then Elisha said something else wholly unexpected, “borrow vessels from all your neighbors.”
Elisha first urged her to look at what she already possessed, and then he urged her to look at all that she could find in her community.
What if we stopped telling people in vulnerable situations that they had to leave their communities to find solutions? What if we told them to look in their homes? To look to their neighbors? What if we could see that God works everywhere?
And God did work. The oil began to flow..from the jar this woman found in a dark corner of her own home and from the jars that all of her neighbors joined to her cause. Together on that day tragedy was averted as the woman identified what she had in herself, and what she had in her community.
God didn’t do a miracle through Elisha that day. Instead, He simply used Elisha to remind the woman that He was already working in her home and in her neighborhood.
What if on our mission trips and service days we spent much less time trying to provide solutions to problems and much more time pointing people to the miracles that God is already doing among them? What if we became much better neighbors? Neighbors who identified the assets those facing poverty already possess? What if we formed strong community bonds? What if we could help the oil flow?
Then maybe young boys wouldn’t have to die, and mothers wouldn’t be left weeping. Maybe the old and hungry wouldn’t be so vulnerable. Maybe we would stop seeing ourselves as the source of the miracle and instead realize how privileged we are to set foot in the sacred spaces where the miracles are happening everyday.
What if we stopped asking how we can be the answer to every problem, and starting asking a different question altogether:
What do you have in your house?