A woman on the verge of starvation is making a loaf of bread for her and her son, with her final rations of flour and oil. When a stranger, the prophet Elijah, stops and asks her to give him the first bites, she does so. As a result, the three of them have enough food to live throughout a major drought.
Another woman, just widowed, is deeply in debt, and her sons are about to lose their freedom to creditors. When Elisha asks her to value her only meager possession – a small pot of oil – she finds that oil multiplying miraculously, providing her with income that saves the family from financial ruin.
A third woman, bearing the signs of public condemnation, approaches Jesus during a ceremonial gathering and anoints his feet with expensive oil. Through the love and transforming influence of the Christ, she is absolved of guilt and encouraged to pursue a life of dignity.
These examples of the symbolic role that oil played show how the spiritual activist can approach today's concerns related to oil.
Today's concerns aren't all that far removed from the ones those women faced. For example, this winter, rising oil prices are causing many people, particularly those in cold climates, to contemplate the disturbing choice between heating and eating. One chief cause for this price spike is seen to be the US housing slump, which has resulted from irresponsible subprime lending (credit troubles, not unlike those that faced the widowed woman). Also, some critics blame the West, and the US in particular, for the disproportionate consumption of fossil fuel that they see as unfair, if not immoral.
In all this, the Bible offers healing insight. Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy noted, "In Christian Science we learn that the substitution of the spiritual for the material definition of a Scriptural word often elucidates the meaning of the inspired writer" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 579). And she gave a metaphysical interpretation of oil as "consecration; charity; gentleness; prayer; heavenly inspiration" (p. 592).
In its spiritual significance, then, oil is composed of spiritual qualities rather than of physical properties. Because they have their source in God, these qualities are infinite. As we consider their significance – and especially as we express them – they will take shape in life, through healing and improvement of the human condition.
Economies wax and wane because of oil. War and peace can hang in its balance. Families are affected by its cost and availability. And the general consensus is that we're helpless to do anything about the fact that the supply is declining, or that it threatens to harm the environment through our overdependence on it.
But the biblical concept of oil offers only healing, not divisiveness. It speaks of something that can only multiply for our benefit, not doom us through its depletion or its hazardous effects. Spiritually speaking, oil is a blessing.
We can learn from those women from the Bible. At Elijah's prompting, the widow counteracted the specter of starvation with the oil of charity. The second woman was willing to employ the oil of prayer in the face of bankruptcy and ruin. And bereft as she was of love or hope, the third woman used the oil of consecration and gentleness. The qualities of oil were there, within these people all the time. God put them there. And these qualities are within each of us, too. God has put them in the hearts of every one of His sons and daughters, throughout all time, because He has made us to be the image of His goodness and love. These qualities – this oil – are mighty. They enable us to really "do something" about today's oil crisis. And there's no time like the present to start thinking about them. Expressing them. Living them. Who can measure such reserves?