2 Kings 4
We come to our final woman of the Lent 2020 series on this Good Friday and you will see why I have chosen to remember her on this day when we remember Jesus’ death on the cross.
We are now very used to our women being unnamed, but usually these are poor or seemingly unimportant. Our final woman was ‘well to do’ and actually rather wealthy, and she was a friend to the prophet Elisha, but for some reason none of the household are named.
The woman lived in a spacious house with her husband in the town of Shunem (where Abishag came from). She was a keen host and enjoyed providing food for the elderly prophet Elisha and his servant Gehazi whenever they passed through the town:
So whenever he passed that way, he would stop there for a meal.2 Kings 4.8
After a while she decided it would be sensible if Elisha stayed overnight rather than having to travel to his home after dinner. She was clearly a woman with an eye for detail and she prepares a room for him at the top of the house:
Let us make a small roof chamber with walls, and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that he can stay there whenever he comes to us.2 Kings 4.10
Elisha and Gehazi want to thank her for her hospitality and so have a conversation about what they might offer her. She declines saying she has all she needs, “I have a home among my own people”
For her, that is blessing enough.
The men decide that as she is childless and ‘her husband is old’ then she can’t really be satisfied until she has a son. They tell her that by next year she would be pregnant, and she is.
The child grew and one day whilst out with his father in the fields he becomes seriously ill:
He said to his father, “My head! My head!” His father told a servant, “Carry him to his mother.” After the servant had lifted him up and carried him to his mother, the boy sat on her lap until noon, and then he died.2 Kings 4. 19
What a tragedy for her. The woman acts quickly. She takes the child upstairs to Elisha’s room, shuts the door and then prepares the donkey to go travel to see the prophet, who is at Mount Carmel, a day’s journey away. Elisha spots her and sends Gehazi to meet her to find out what’s wrong, ‘Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is the child all right?’.
She doesn’t want to speak to Gehazi, but to Elisha and, although the servant tries to keep her away, she pushes forward. Her reaction seems to be anger:
Did I ask you for a son my Lord? Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t raise my hopes?”2 Kings 4.28
Perhaps she felt she was worse off now than she was before she had a child. Alfred Lord Tennyson said ’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’, but in these early moments of grief it didn’t feel like it to her.
Elisha and Gehazi go with the woman to her home and Elisha went upstairs to see the dead boy. He prayed to the Lord.
Then he got on the bed and lay on the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out on him, the boy’s body grew warm.2 Kings 4.34
The boy returned to life and was given back to his mother, who fell to the ground in worship and thankfulness.
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. Luke 23.44-46
Today is Good Friday and we remember Jesus’ final hours where he was beaten, humiliated and crucified. In his death, Jesus took onto himself all the pain, suffering and sin that is in the world. We also remember Jesus’ mother Mary, who was with him until his final breath, and who held his dead, lifeless body in her arms, just as the Women of Shunem had done many years before.
Before we get to the joy of the resurrection on Easter, perhaps we could spend a bit of time today reflecting on the grief that is around us. I don’t know about you but I find it hard to stay with the pain of Good Friday and my natural inclination is to move towards the joy and hope that is to come.
But let’s stay here for a while, and let us remember all those who are grieving today. Those who’s loved ones have died, those who have been unable to hold dying relatives in their arms in their final hours, mothers who have had to witness the death of their children, all those known to us who are suffering, and who might also be wondering if the love they had was worth the pain of the grief.
Let us place all our prayers at the foot of the cross, in the hope of the resurrection and new life.
in the cross of Jesus
we see the cost of sin
and the depth of your love:
in humble hope and fear
may we place at his feet
all that we have and all that we are,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
A Collect for Good Friday from Church of England Common Worship