A Handful of Meal… A Little Oil…

DoveA handful of meal… a little oil…. Imagine those are the only foodstuffs in your kitchen… Just enough to take the edge off your hunger before you and your son lay down to die of the starvation that has been theirs since her widowhood.

How many of us have faced empty cupboards and hungry children? And no means to fill either of them. How many of us have gone grocery shopping, have cupboards full to overflowing and have your children say, “There’s nothing to eat…”

Those economic disparities exist now, just as they did in the time of our reading. Did the reading offend you on some level? It did me… Here we have a widow…. Who has only a bit of flour and oil… and Elijah comes along and asks her to feed him with it… reassuring her that God won’t let it run out until the rains come. Here we have someone at the bottom, or at least close to the bottom, of the economic scale… and she is being asked to share it with Elijah. Not only share it, but feed him first! Because God said so! Does she really have any choice? There is a huge power imbalance there… he is a man, she is a woman, a widow. He invokes his need for food as God directed… And she obeys… And what Elijah tells her comes to pass… the oil and the meal do not run out…

On the table, God’s table, we have a handful of meal… and a little oil… Basic elements in the making of bread. Bread in some form is one of the basic foods of all people… Bread that is symbolic of Jesus’ body… also food for all who seek to follow him… The bread that will never run out… as long as we share it… and not keep it for ourselves…

Can we trust that God will provide? That is a very different question depending on where you place yourself on the economic ladder. For those of us who have abundance… I am not sure that we trust in God or our own resources. For those of us who are one or two paycheques away from not being able to pay the rent and/or buy food… can we trust God that our basic needs for food, shelter and clothing will be provided for us?

We like to think that in Canada, there is nobody going hungry… that we have social safety nets and that is true… but the bigger question for me is why are people hungry… Each year Food Banks Canada releases HungerCount, a comprehensive report that helps us understand who turns to food banks and why. This national study is conducted during the month of March and results are released each November.

In March 2015, 852,137 people received food from a food bank in Canada. More than one-third of those helped were children. Food bank use in March 2015 was 1.3% higher compared to the same period in 2014 and 26% higher than in 2008, before the start of the global financial crisis. Half of the provinces experienced increases in food bank use in 2015. Hardest hit was Alberta, where unemployment increased by 10% between March 2014 and 2015 in the wake of the dropping price of oil. The need for food banks spiked drastically in 2009 and has hovered at record levels ever since.

Who Is Being Helped?

Households that make the difficult decision to ask for help from food banks tend to be the most severely food insecure because their incomes are too low to cover even the most basic needs:

  • Seniors: 7% of households helped by food banks live primarily on income from a pension;
  • Working Poor: 16% of those assisted earn the majority of their income through work;
  • The Disabled: 18% of households receive disability-related income supports;
  • Social Assistance 46% of households accessing food banks are on provincial social assistance benefits.

The households that request assistance are often forced to limit their spending on food because of the high and relatively inflexible cost of housing: 5% of households accessing food banks are homeless, with the majority of these living temporarily with family or friends. Thousands of Nova Scotians don’t know where their next meal will come from, and many rely on local food banks for assistance.

Total Assisted, March 2015: 19,722, up slightly from last year, but up 16.6% from 2008.

Hunger and the poverty that precedes it are complicated issues. We are all part of our economic system. I have lived at both ends of the economic spectrum… from bare cupboards to overflowing ones… And sometimes, I think it was easier to trust God when I had nothing. Please don’t misunderstand me… I am not romantizing poverty… Not having enough is demoralizing and soul destroying. Always being on the receiving end made me feel dependent, child-like and ashamed. But it also made me much more aware at how easy it is to become impoverished… all it took was a divorce to know that my independence was an illusion… and without family, I would have had to rely on foodbanks to feed my son. And when I had little, for some reason, it was easier to place my trust in God that my needs would be provided for.

Now that I am at a very different place financially, I am sometimes more fearful of not having enough. It’s almost as if it is harder to share all I have… because of what I have… when I had little… it was easier… And when fear takes over, faith is edged out… Faith that God is present no matter where on the economic scale we are… Faith that God will provide… Faith that all of us have value and something to offer…

A little meal… a little oil… a little water… enough for all when we remember and share.

Thanks be to God for the challenge of hearing God’s word in challenging stories, amen.

© Rev. Catherine MacDonald 2016

I Kings 17: 8-16    June 5, 2016 – EPC

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