A Tale of Two Widows

Today we hear tales of two widows—one down to her last cup of flour; the other a penny short of penniless. One –the Widow of Zarephath–living outside the covenanted community of Israel; the other abandoned by those covenanted to care for widows, orphans and strangers. One has a son. The other—we know nothing of her. Nothing except she put in all she had, her whole life—she put it all in the Temple coffers.

That Widow of Zarephath fell within God’s field of vision. Before Elijah even came on the scene, God had commanded her to help him. God provided for all—the widow, her son and Elijah—with a jar of flour that would not go empty.

The second Widow’s tale we hear today is not nearly so neat—Jesus, fresh from teaching his disciples about the scourge of scribes who like to go around in fancy clothes and have honors heaped upon them as they devour widows’ livelihoods, sits down in the Temple court, across from the treasury, and watches folks as they perform the elaborate dance of donation to the temple coffers.

Imagine the scene—men dressed in fancy clothes ,all highly perfumed, loudly announcing the size of their gift and the purpose for which they want it used, for that is how folks did donations to the temple in those days. Imagine all the people hanging around—curious to see just who was there and even more curious to hear just how much they were giving and to what.

I bet no one even saw that widow standing to the side. No one but Jesus. He saw her standing there waiting until the high and mighty, the powerful ones, the wealthy ones had made their donations and their claims on the Temple. He saw her hesitantly make her way to the treasury vessels. He watched her drop her last two small coins into the coffers. I suspect he heard her say with a sigh, “It’s all I have—it’s my whole life” and saw her shrug as she said it.

There’s a part of me that wishes he would have intervened. Maybe gone up to her and said as he said to Simon and Andrew and James and John, “Follow me.”   Then I remember. It was too late for that. He was well on his way to the Cross. His next trip into Jerusalem would be his last. And it was only days away.

But Jesus does not just watch and move on. He calls his disciples over. He directs their attention to her. He says to them and to us as well, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

There are those who hear this widow’s tale as a call to sacrificial giving. There are those who hear this tale as an indictment of folks who give out of their abundance and not out of that they need to survive. I don’t hear it that way. I don’t think that’s what Jesus was up to when he called his disciples over and pointed out that woman, that widow whose gift placed her like the Widow of Zarephath at death’s door. “No Siree, Bob,” as my husband would say. Jesus was seizing the teachable moment. Jesus was making it real. Jesus was saying to his disciples, “There it is. A widow’s house being devoured before our very eyes.”

But I wonder if Jesus wasn’t up to something else in that moment across from the Temple Treasury. Do you remember the first time Jesus fed the crowds? The disciples came to him and pointed out that it was late and the people were hungry. Jesus said them, “You give them something to eat.” I wonder if Jesus wasn’t turning the disciples’ eyes to a pressing human need. I wonder if Jesus wasn’t teaching them to see in a different way.

I wonder if Jesus hadn’t found another way to say to his disciples, “Follow me.” Will they follow him?   Will we?

Will we, like that Widow of Zarephath, do our part to bring the Reign of God near? Will we become, like Jesus, repairers of the breach? Will we notice and address the pressing need before our very eyes? Will we follow Him?

Questions we answer anew every morning. Questions we answer as individuals, questions we answer as the part of the Body of Christ we call Live at Five, questions we answer as St. Michael’s and questions we answer as the People of God.

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