The other day, WordPress decided to get rid of about half of the sermon post, which I had to rewrite; and then later it gave up on letting me post anything more. So I guess I’m not going to fight it anymore; and here’s a second post with the non-Chrysostom, non-Ephrem, non-John Damascene sermon. Back to talking about the widow who was planning to make some cakes for herself and her kid, and then die of starvation, before Elijah came along and multiplied oil.
To her, in a time of famine, Elijah was sent, when nearly all the ground was cracking into pieces from drought — when the sky was burning, and the air turned bronze, and the clouds were held back. When not an herb, not a flower, not a thorn branch, not a dewy breath of air, and not an ear of grain stirred. When the rivers dried up, and the breasts of springs would not let down the waters, and the sea at the river mouth had nothing coming into it, with no sweet water or rain running down.
Then Elijah was sent to the poor woman, and to the widow.
But look, a widow endures trouble even in a time of prosperity. And yet the prophet left the rich, who had loaves of bread, and descended from the mountain, and came to her.
So why is it better that he bring the fire down from heaven than that he bring down bread?
Could he not do it?
Oh yes, he could. But he doesn’t do it.
Because then the widow would be deprived of the fruit of her hospitality. But in this other way, he multiplies both the handful of flour and the tiny drop of oil, by his blessing.
For the prophet was not so much fed, as that he provisioned the poor woman. And he proved that her hidden heart was a resolutely purposeful and good one (euproaireton). [cf. 2 Cor. 9:7, “proairetai kardia”]
The mighty God does this with all the saints who are in the world, so you are fed yourself [by others]. He presents a gift, so that at the time of hospitality, one may pick out the resolutely purposeful and good hearts from their fruit. (cf. Mt. 23:33, Lk. 6:44)
But if those indebted [to God] may not be persuaded to receive them with welcome, either they will be fed by birds, like Elijah on the mountain; or by a prophet-host, like Daniel in the pit; or by a sea animal, like Jonah by the whale; or they will rain down food for themselves, as with our fathers in the wilderness. For, when not received with welcome by the true indebted, the manna rained down from heaven, and water sprang forth from the rock.
But whenever the saints should go about living with others in the world, He suspends His right hand. And when He should see them afflicted, He allows it, so that, taught by the grace given to them through others, having shown beneficence to them, the many willing may harvest fruit of salvation.
Therefore Elijah was sent to the widow – to her and nobody beside her (cf. Lk. 4:26) — not for the handful of flour, which was the very thing which she got with toil, and which would have been enough for her and her son in better times.
And what did he say to her?
‘”Fetch me a little water in a vessel, so I can drink.” (3 Kgs 17:10/1 Kgs. 17:10)
But as she was going after it, ‘he cried out after her… “And bring me a bit of bread in your hand.”‘ (3 Kgs. 17:11/1 Kgs. 17:11)
And she, who did not have anything, spoke to him — and what she did not have, she was granted.
‘”As [your] Lord lives, I have no ash cake; but only a handful of flour, and a little oil in the bowl.”‘ (3 Kgs. 17:12/1 Kgs. 17:12)
Admirable, because in such a lack of food, what her present poverty left to her was not denied to him.
How many inviters now, who, treating gold and silver like clay, renew good deeds to their friends, and how many flatterers refuse to take them? And turning to the ones consoled for an investment, letters are drawn up in terms stronger than iron; and the hand that was accepted at first is handcuffed by the scribes, taking the gold as proxies and mediators.
But at the first sound, she did not deny him that handful of flour.
And what did the prophet say to her?
“Hurry, and make an ash cake, and first give it to me, and afterwards make one for yourself and your son.” (cf. 3 Kgs. 17:13/1 Kgs. 17:13)
The saying of the prophet was a testing, a trial of heart, a touchstone of resolution. And the heart of that blessed woman was as if under a yoke; and it was tested.
How would she choose? To care for her own son, or to hospitality for the prophet?
But her decision was to accept trouble for herself and for her child, and to receive the prophet with welcome. For she sees that “He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward… and he who pours a cold cup of water… in the name of a disciple, shall not lose his reward.” (cf. Mt. 10:41-42)
And what did the prophet say to her? “Hurry.”
[This is not in our existing Septuagint versions of 3 Kgs. 17:13. But it is in the LXX version of Genesis 18:6, in which Sarah is told to make cakes.]
In fact, therefore, was he so hungry as to beg for hurry?
Not at all; instead, he begged the cheerful and warm haste of doing good, not the haste of suffering or “necessity. For God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7, cf. Deut. 15:10)
“Hurry… and make it for me first… and afterward, for yourself and for your son.”
“Hurry,” as Abraham hurried when the angels came to stay — “to the cattle,” to the “calf,” so that he could welcome the Lamb. (LXX Gen. 18:7)
And like Sarah, she hurried to make an ash cake, so that she could receive the hidden Bread from the Heavens. (LXX Gen. 18:6)
“Hurry,” and do a sacrifice to God, like Abraham — and not “Do it for yourself first, and then for me.” Not like Cain; not like Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli the priest; who insulted God, first receiving the first fruits of the gifts offered to God. But do in haste what has been commanded.
And so, having considered her wealth, the ash cake bread — it was acceptable — it was worthy of proclamation, and He filled the house of the virtuous woman. For He says, “It shall not run out — the handful of flour in the pitcher, and the oil in the cruse — until the Lord gives rain upon the earth.” (LXX 3 Kgs. 17:14/cf. 1 Kgs. 17:14)
Why until then?
Also according to necessity.
For the end is to restrain the old Law, until there should be a loosing of the rain of new grace. And the work followed the word.
Do you see how virtuous women harvested the fruits of hospitality? For the fruits of virtuous labors are famous, and the root of prudence is imperishable.
O women, you have heard about the practices of wicked women, and the excellences of virtuous women! Therefore, love the latter, but do not long [to be like] the former! And imitate the latter, but hate the former!
So that by following the virtuous around the racecourse — I say more beautifully, by following them in their holy dance — you may be counted in Our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.
And that’s both parts of the sermon. As you see, it’s not misogynist at all.
An ash cake or hearth cake or hoecake is when you make flatbread on a nice flat stone next to a fire, using it like a baking sheet, and then you rake warm ashes over the top, using the ashes like aluminum foil or a pot lid. When the bread is done, you take it out of the ashes; and since it’s a flatbread, the ashes can be brushed off. It’s a camping thing, nowadays, but it used to be a standard way to make bread. You can also roast skin-on potatoes in ashes.
White ashes are hot enough for cooking; gray ashes are too cool. And if you don’t want to be eating ashes, it’s good to wrap the cakes in leaves, or to put a lid on top of the cake before piling on the ashes. And if you don’t have a flat stone (or don’t trust local stone varieties in the fire), you can even use a sturdy board as your cookie sheet, like this guy. (Because the ashes shouldn’t be hot enough to set your board on fire.) Propping it up in the air next to the fire, like this guy does, is a pro move that is also used to cook meat. (The infamous Civil War recipe for cooking rat uses a board, but the peacetime use was cooking squirrel. Obviously the meat is very lean and skinny.)