We have in today’s readings two stories about widows. We have the old testament story of the widow who feeds Elijah with the last of her oil and flour. She is reluctant at first, but Elijah relays God’s promise: “The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth." In the second story, we have Jesus watching as the people in the temple contribute to the treasury. He points out that the widow has given all that she has (just like the widow in the Hebrew Scripture).
As I listened to these two stories, I wonder who it is we’re supposed to admire? Are we supposed to admire these two widows who suffer in poverty? Should we admire the widow who feeds Elijah at the point when she has just enough meal to make one cake for herself and her son and then plans to die? Should we admire the widow with her two mites—so poor that she has only a penny to give?
Elijah’s widow is the recipient of the bountiful oil and meal as a miracle from God. She must have been amazed. But the prophet Elijah must also have been amazed. He was following God’s command to go and live in Zaraphath and sure enough, when he follows God’s direction, there is enough for the widow, her son and for Elijah. Everyone in the story must feel God’s bounty here. This is the point of the story. God has provided for the poor (and for the prophet).
And in Mark’s Gospel, our attention is drawn to the widow, but the beginning of the passage is about the evil of the Scribes.
And who should we condemn? Jesus is dismissive of the wealthy people who put in large sums. But he is really focused on the “Scribes” who get respect and at the same time as they “devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation." Jesus lifts up the widow with her two mites, but he is really pointing out the faults of the lawmakers who create the widow’s poverty. They are the ones who “devour her house”.
When we read these two passages together, we can see that God’s will is for a system that will create bounty for everyone. These are stories that are not about “good behavior” by widows, but rather about God’s vision for a system in which all will have enough to eat. God wants the Scribes not to take the widow’s house so that she’ll have more than two mites. He wants the treasury to grow because everyone is prospering.
This might seem like a controversial reading of these texts. At this time of year, when many churches are in “stewardship” season, it’s tempting to think that these texts might be about “giving until it hurts”—give away your last oil and meal, give away your two mites because this is what God demands of us. But I think that God’s preference for the poor is not because God wants us to be poor or all to give everything we have to those who are poorer than us. God’s preference for the poor is because God wants us all to have plenty.
The Psalm lays it out for us: Put not your trust in the rulers. It is the Lord who sets the prisoners free and gives justice to the oppressed.
I prayed this week about what these passages say to us here at Nativity. I heard that we should stand with the poor against a system that keeps people in poverty. Maybe specifically, we should be speaking for the widows—we want to make sure that the health care system works here, that everyone can afford the care that they need. Maybe we should be speaking about wages—we need to make sure that low-wage jobs—jobs in retail, or hospitality, or service pay enough so that people can afford to live here.
I pray today that we might participate in the final judgment day. In the Epistle, Paul tells the Hebrews about the second coming—this is the final judgment day, when Christ returns to those who are eagerly waiting for him. My belief is that this second coming is about what we are called to do to bring the Kingdom here. The final judgment will be when all of God’s people have enough. God’s Kingdom, the Heavenly Banquet will be when the widow’s oil jar and meal never run out. This will be the day when the Scribes have ensured that the treasuries are plentiful because the widow and the wealthy will both be able to give from the bounty that they have received from God.
I pray that we might sit with the un-housed at the Wellness dinner and condemn their poverty. We sit with them, praying that the Scribes who have established a system in which they do not have stable housing or the medical care that they need might be overturned. I pray that we might sit with the youth at the Alternative High School and pray that the breakfast we provide might be a symbol of the hope that they will be filled with good things, with family and friends, education and the promise of a future. I pray that when we provide our presents for Ritter House families, that these presents might be seen as an encouragement that they will find good paying work, housing that they can afford, good affordable health care and sufficient means to provide everything that their families need and want. As we sit and pray with the women at Kairos Outside, we pray that they know God’s bounty—that they will have their oil jars filled, and their meal replenished. We pray that they will be able to serve the traveller who needs them because they will have enough for their sons and themselves.
We give thanks to the Lord, our God who provides all that we have, and we pray that the Scribes, our lawmakers who have the power to eliminate poverty will find the right ways so that every widow and every person who suffers poverty will have bounty to share.