The two widows, by Pastor Noel

Nov. 11, 2018    Proper 27B

 

      The widow of Zarephath and the widow of the Temple treasury. We always read these two stories in the midst of our annual pledge time. It sounds as if the Scriptures are giving us instructions on how to give.

      Well, both of these stories can be interpreted this way, but the deeper point is not about the giving, but the reasons for giving.

       Giving to the church for God’s work is just one part of being a good steward. Stewardship is about how we live and treat others, and the earth.

      The widow of Zarephath—did you notice that Zarephath “belongs to Sidon”? This unnamed woman is not a Jew, yet she listened to God’s inspiration.

      Throughout the Bible we read of folks who aren’t considered “God’s people” yet they hear God and pay attention.

      This widow and her son were about to prepare the last food in the house, and then starve to death. She honored God by honoring God’s prophet, Elijah.

      She believed God’s unbelievable promise of abundance, and responded with her gift even before she knew the promise was true.

      When an (also unnamed) woman anointed him with precious oil, Jesus said, “Whenever ministry is done, it will be done in memory of her,” he may have been thinking also of this long ago widow.

      She heard God’s promise of abundance and gave in thanks. Then she knew the reality of the promise in her life.

      That transformation happens in our lives, too. As we give thanks for God’s abiding presence, we become more and more aware of that presence. We see all the ways that living in God’s kingdom is peace and strength and comfort, hope and joy.

      In the Gospel story, the other widow was making her required offering in the Temple treasury. She is also anonymous. Like others without names in Scripture, she stands for everyone. She is us.

      Jesus was sitting and watching the room where offerings were given, and he could hear all the people tell what they were giving and what it was for.

      I wonder what it would be like if we had to announce our offering each Sunday!

      These folks are loud as they give their offerings, because they want everyone to know just how generous they are. This reflects just how rich and powerful they are.

      Then the widow slips in quietly, and puts all that she has into the treasury. All that she has is a pittance, a mite as it’s often called. A penny.

      Like the widow in Zarephath, she gives everything to God, and Jesus praises her, not caring about the amount.

      He calls her a “poor widow” but that is surely a redundancy. In Jesus’ day all widows were poor, because Jewish law did not give them status to hold property.

      Women and children were lowest on the social scale, but widows were at the very bottom.

      As he praises her, though, Jesus is railing against the system that forced her into poverty. He is criticizing the leaders who put her there, while they benefited from whatever her husband left.

      We often hear Jesus criticize the Pharisees because they enforce the law in ways that are burdensome to others.

      Here it is the Scribes who come under Jesus’ scrutiny. He accuses them of wanting to look good rather than doing good. They should know better, he is saying.

      Instead of serving the people, they wear long, luxurious robes so that everyone knows who they are; they demand respect when they are in public places, and they get the best seats in worship and at dinner.

      Jesus’ criticism is aimed at those who use power over people instead of being with them and serving them. He is saying that arrogance and contempt for others is not the way of God’s kingdom.

      The story of the widow in the temple reminds me of a story my grandmother told. They had a maid who came from Ireland and was sending most of her wages back home.

      She was putting pennies in the collection at church. The priest came and told her that was not good enough. She never went back to church.

      In our Collect we prayed that Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life.”

      What are the works of the devil that Jesus destroys?

      The arrogance of that priest, for one.

      From this gospel story we can see that the devil works through arrogance and contempt. The devil works in us by instilling fear and anger that have led us into war all over the world.

      The devil, the tester, works by making us think that we alone are important and we don’t need to consider others.

      Jesus lived to show us just the opposite of this. He came to show that God’s kingdom is here now as we connect with others and share our blessings with them—and allow others to share their blessings with us.

      Today we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI—the “Great” War, the “War to End all Wars.” Well, that worked well, didn’t it?

      At 11 o’clock we will ring the church bell 21 times, as invited by our bishop. As you hear the bells, please remember all those who died in WWI and all the wars since. Wars “over there” and wars in our cities and towns here at home.

      As we think of being good stewards of God’s kingdom, of living that connectedness that puts us all in God’s hands, let us pray. This is one of the Collects in Morning Prayer:

      Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace. So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.

 

       

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details