24 Pentecost, Year B
The Rev. R. Bingham Powell
1 Kings 17:8-16; Psalm 146
Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44
In our readings this morning, we have examples of two widows held before us. The first widow is from First Kings. Elijah is sent by God during a drought to go find a widow who will feed him. When he meets her, he asks for water, which was probably a pretty big request given the drought, but because of the cultural expectations of hospitality, she obliges. But then, he asks for food, also. Normally, she would likely be willing to provide that also, but she doesn’t have enough food for her and her son for one last meal. Hospitality has its limits, she thinks, and so she refuses. Do not be afraid, Elijah tells her, the Lord will provide. She trusts, and finds that trust vindicated. She now has enough food to survive the drought.
Our second widow is from Mark. Jesus is in the temple, watching the people put their money into the treasury. He sees person after person put in large sums of money to the treasury, and then he sees a widow go and put in two small coins, worth just a penny. He lifts her up to his disciples for giving all that she had.
Scripture often talks about widows. They are often used in “laundry lists” of people in need of support and care. “You shall not abuse any widow or orphan,” says Exodus. “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all your undertakings,” says Deuteronomy. “Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow,” says Isaiah. “Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place,” says Jeremiah. “The LORD loves the righteous; the LORD cares for the stranger; he sustains the orphan and widow, but frustrates the way of the wicked,” says the Psalmist. And on and on goes Scripture. Clearly, there is a special place for widows among the oppressed. Being a widow did not automatically make one poor, oppressed, and in need, but women did not have many paths to financial security in those days, so losing a husband left one much more vulnerable. The religious law commanded that widows, along with orphans and aliens, were to be especially cared for by society. These laws were good. They were meet and right. We love our neighbor by caring for our neighbor when in need, especially those neighbors most at risk. And Jesus rightly condemns the scribes for not only having ignored the weightier matters of the law, but for having done the opposite of the law by devouring the widows’ houses.
But what is striking about these two vignettes about widows is that the widows are not in need of care and support, this is not another laundry list of the oppressed, but these two widows are the ones doing the caring and doing the supporting. The widows are not the weak ones in these stories; they are the strong ones. They are not in need of our pity, but they are models that we hold up to our own lives. I am reminded of Paul’s discussion of the Body of Christ. All members of the Body of Christ are valuable, with the weakest being the most valuable, afforded the place of special honor. All have something to offer, and we are especially reminded of that today as we hear about the ones who are assumed to be in need of help, doing the helping.
These widows trust in God and give of themselves. These widows become exemplars that encourage others to love their neighbors. The widow in First Kings gives the little food that she has left in the midst of a drought to feed Elijah when he is in need. The widow in Mark’s gospel gives not out of her abundance, but out of her poverty. These two widows do not have the resources for these decisions to be easy ones. These are decisions of deep faith and trust - deep faith in God’s abiding presence; deep trust that the Lord will provide.
This sort of faith and trust is not easy or natural for us, especially in the droughts of our lives. The widow in First Kings did not exhibit this trust immediately. She had to be reminded that the Lord would provide. Even then, it’s not exactly clear that she fully believed in it, fully trusted in God. And yet, she took the leap of faith. She mustered up her courage and took a risk, allowing her faith and trust to grow in the process. In the midst of scarcity, she bet on God’s abundance, and won. The Lord does provide. The Lord is with us. Because the Lord loves us more than we can possibly ask for or imagine.
So, we, too, can take these risks, these leaps of faith, like these two women in our Scriptures today do. Things may not work out exactly as we thought. We may not find that God’s abundance matches our expectations of what it should look like. But we can trust that things will work out, because God will be with us through it all. We can trust that God’s blessings can be found in the midst of the drought, that God’s abundance can be there in the midst of scarcity. Be not afraid; trust in God. Amen.