I want to begin with a quote from the book we’ve been reading for Wednesday’s Bible Study, A More Christlike Word. The author Bradley Jersak begins the book with he calls, a reliable one-liner. Here it goes: “The Word of God is inspired, inerrant, and infallible. And when he was about eighteen years old, he grew a beard.”
This quote gets at the heart of the book’s thesis – that we must read the Bible through the lens of Jesus, which the Bible itself declares to be the Word of God. Christ and his Spirit, the primary Word of God, are the reading glasses we need to read the Bible and get to the heart of the Bible’s truths. The Bible points to Jesus and so he is the lens through which we decipher each text.
This morning I want to give a working example of reading scripture through the lens of Christ as we focus on our reading from the Old Testament, also known as the Tanakh or the Hebrew Bible.
Our story from I Kings 17 is a wonderful one. It resonates on its own, doesn’t it?
The context of the story is that a severe drought is happening and effecting a famine. The people of Yahweh understand this to be of divine consequence, as the karmic effect of King Ahab’s horrible, calloused leadership of Israel. The Prophet Elijah is not hesitant to declare this to be the case. Nonetheless, everyone is suffering amid the famine.
Our reading this morning is a vignette that shows this suffering and how God provides somehow.
The vignette involves two people. Our heroic prophet Elijah and a widowed young mother in the town of Sidon. The widowed mother is a Gentile with a son who are starving amid the famine. Elijah comes into town, and there at the gates of Sidon, he sits thirsty and hungry just like everyone else is. He sees the woman, the young widowed mother. She is picking up sticks. He asks her first for a recepticle of water.
A heroic sage-prophet coming into town and at a central location of that town asking for a drink of water from a woman down on her luck… familiar story. Think Jesus at Jacob’s Well and a Samaritan woman whom Jesus asks for a drink of water, a story told in John 10. Anyway, we’ll get to that later.
So, Elijah doesn’t stop with water. He asks for bread as well. In fact, he pleads for the young woman to make him bread. Don’t forget, Elijah is starving along with everyone else.
The widowed mother is in a bind. She only has a bit of flour and a bit of oil left, enough for just one more small loaf for herself and her son, after which, she fears, they’ll likely starve to death. That’s what she tells Elijah as she says, I can’t.
Elijah insists, promising her that if she takes that leap of faith in making and giving him some bread, she will not run out of flour and oil through the drought, until it ends and rain comes.
And this is what happens, the famous miracle of an evergiving bowl of flour and jar of oil amid a vicious drought.
What does this lovely vignette tell us?
Yes, there is the easily ascertained lesson that we can trust God to provide for all we need and that showing good faith and being hospitable are things that God rewards.
But there’s something deeper going on when we put on those reading glasses of Christ as the Word of God.
We have water which Elijah first asks for. Hmm… in the story I mentioned from the gospel of John, the one with Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Remember that story. Well, Jesus in that vignette declares himself to Living Water, ever-giving water which will never allow us to go thirsty, spiritually speaking of course.
I I Kings 17, we also have
bread. The gospel of John also has Jesus saying something else profound. John 6
shows Jesus declaring himself to be the Bread of Life.
We see metaphors for Christ in our story.
Here’s another example. Our story from I Kings begins with verse 8, “the word of the Lord came to Elijah. It ends in verse 16 with these words: according to the the Word of the Lord which spoke through Elijah.” Jesus is the Word, John 1 says.
Jesus is that word of the Lord, present and speaking in our story.
Let’s look a little closer at the bread, which is a key part of our story.
It is simple bread of three ingredients – flour, water, and oil. This is where it gets interesting.
Who is Jesus? The Christ, the Anointed One, the One anointed with oil to be the new Messiah.
That bread, even the bread of life, requires the anointing of oil is no coincidence to our understanding here.
Oil, cooking oil… we shoudn’t read past this. In the Jewish tradition, oil is a symbol, a metaphor for the Holy Spirit.
When oil is infused into water and flour and warmed with a kindled fire of sticks – a fiery bush if you will – bread is the result.
My final point relates to the source of our reading from I Kings, the Bible.
Too often we Christians read the Bible like a text book, using our right side of the brain primarily, the discursive side, the logical side. And Christians who sort of don’t take the Bible too seriously, who don’t really delve into it, too often see it as a kind of lifeless textbook that can be rather boring and hard to understand.
In this case, we are reading the Bible as flour alone. Indeed, what good is flour without water and oil?
When Corey was maybe 5 years-old, he somehow got a hold of flour and decided to play with it in the guest bedroom of the parsonage. It made a complete mess, a mess that is probably still faintly evidenced in that room to this day. Reading the Bible as just flour, as just words void of the oil of the Spirit, indeed can make a mess of a lot of things. See holy wars, inquisitions, witch burnings, racial violence… the list goes on and on.
When we read the Bible infused by the the Spirit of Love and Christ who embodied love, we avoid these messes.
Flour infused with oil and water and heated by fire means bread. The Bible infused with the Holy Spirit and Christ and baked in the fire of God’s love means Christ.
What does this mean? What does this mean for us as we come to a close?
The life-sustaining bread in I Kings points to the Bread of Life that is Christ. Likewise, the Bible, the word of God, points to Jesus, the living and breathing word of God. The heart, the heartbeat of what we call the word of God is the ultimate Word of God, Christ himself!
And this bread is something we are met to ingest and nourish us!
So, let us see and take-in the Bible as not just a lifeless textbook. Instead let us see and internalize its heartbeat and the life that heartbeat sustains! Let us add the Holy Spirit’s presence and compassion into the mix. Let us and internalize into our minds and hearts the life of Christ and the Spirit of Christ still with us. And in taking in the story of Jesus into our own spirits may we have our spiritual hunger fulfilled. Amen.