Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Call This Shunemite..."

In one of the liturgy's readings for today (2 Kings 4:18-21; 32-37) the woman from Shunem was well-to-do, but barren and childless because her husband was old.  They befriended Elisha, the "holy man", and gave him an apartment in their home for whenever he passed through the area.  The lady became pregnant through Elisha's intercession, and the story recounts how this child, now older and so precious to her, is afflicted with sunstroke while working in the field.  Undoubtedly he's in a coma rather than dead.

Twice in Chapter 4 Elisha says: "Call this Shunemite."  The town from where this woman originates is in the Plain of Esdraelon, southeast of Mt. Carmel, between Tabor and Jezreel.  The name sunem means uncertain.

Who is this Shunemite? What does she represent? Perhaps she stands for everyone of us working his or her way through life, trying to make peace despite our uncertainty, our broken dreams and our shattered hopes.  We don't have to look far to find barreness, impotence, sterility: it's all around.  And when the barreness is broken with promise, there's always death tearing the fabric of hope over and over.

So many people today -- the elderly, those who are alone, the physically, mentally, emotionally challenged -- are plagued with the question: "What will happen to me?"  Our young people wonder, in the midst of a nuclear age and ever recurring violence, if they'll ever see adulthood.  The Third World of bloated bellies and child warriors seethes with pain and despair.  The incessant quest for youth and health, anything to relieve the boredom, the emptiness, and the "middle-age crazies" demonstrates that not even the affluent and powerful escape.

Perhaps all of us are the Shunamite who is called.  All of us are instruments of Jesus' call to one another.  As we near the end of Lent and prepare to enter into the great Holy Week of Christ's passion, death and resurrection, we become more deeply aware of the sometimes burdensome task we have to share the message of death-to-life to a needy world.

The Collect for this Wednesday in the 5th week of Lent pleads that God will "renew in us the gifts of your mercy; increase our faith, strengthen our hope, enlighten our understanding, widen our charity, and make us ready to serve you..."  Equipped with such gifts, we're enabled to show one another that life is possible, even where death reigns; that hope can come to fruition, even where despair now flourishes; that the world isn't a hopeless system of endless computer print-outs and mindless soap operas, but the very arena where God's life-giving power is at work, making us all new.

"'Call this Shunemite'.  So he called her.  When she came to him, he said, 'Take your son.'  She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground..."

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