Hope of a Widow

Pentecost 24 – Hope of a Widow

November 10-11, 2012

1 Kings 17:8-16

Mark 12:38-44

 

In 1st Kings, Elijah is told to visit a widow and ask  her to feed him.

In Psalm 146 we hear that the “Lord upholds the orphan and the widow.”

In the gospel of Mark, Jesus points out to his disciples the actions of a widow.

Widows are important in this week’s readings!

And as I explained to a group of young people this week, we’re not talking about spiders…!

Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.”

There are a number of ways to interpret this story.

 

The traditional way  is to look at the widow as a hero…

This is a woman who despite her own personal poverty,

trusts God enough to put all she has into the offering plate – her last two cents.

 

It’s how we get the phrase to give our ‘two cents worth’ –

it’s not much, but it’s all we’ve got.

 

The message in this understanding of the passage is, ‘We should all be like this widow.’

We should trust God and be willing to give it all – every penny – like she did.

 

And there are those here in this congregation who will hear this story that way.

There are widows and widowers sitting here.

There are seniors and single parents struggling to make ends meet

who will hear this passage …and feel guilty.

They will hear it and think – Jesus is telling me to be like this widow and give it all – every last bit.

 

I know some will hear this passage this way,

because I know some of you are like this widow.

You give away money you do not have.

With generous hearts, you respond to every request for assistance from the church and the community.

You fill every offering envelope you receive.

And many of you feel blessed in the midst of such sacrificial giving.

 

But I have news for all of us – this is not a text about the heroism of the widow.

This is not a text of praise.

This is a text of lament.

 

This is a text which laments a system  which allows the widow to be so poor.

This is a text which laments the fact that there’s a woman living in the shadow of the temple

who has only two cents to her name.

 

In biblical days, once a woman’s husband died,

if she did not remarry or have adult children, she had no means of financial support – none.

 

Widows were among the members of society which were

the most disenfranchised, the least protected, the most vulnerable, and the most exposed to harm.

 

And yet throughout the Old Testament,

there is a clear moral imperative to “take care of the widows.”

 

Jesus looks out in the temple courtyard and sees that it’s not happening.

The religious leaders charged with protecting the poor, are even part of the problem.

Jesus says they “devour widows’ houses.”

 

I don’t know exactly what it means to devour a widow’s house…

but the words give pretty good picture of what’s happening.

Under the watch of the religious leaders,

widows are not being cared for – even their homes are being gobbled up.

 

This is not a text of praise.

This is a text of lament.

 

There are widows living in our shadow too.

Many widows and widowers struggle…

There’s the struggle of trying to get by on a reduced income…

social security checks which don’t cover what they used to;

pensions which have not kept up with the times.

There’s the struggle of trying to keep up with the home repairs or yardwork.

There’s the struggle of loneliness.

Ordinary struggles which are heart-wrenching enough.

But as we’ve learned these last couple of weeks with Hurricane Sandy,

when disaster strikes, widows and widowers too often suffer extraordinarily.

 

In New York alone, at last count there were a dozen elderly men and women who died in the storm.

News reports said, that

 

“Some were vulnerable because of poor health. The power failure cut off the oxygen supply for an ailing 75-year woman living in Manhattan’s East Village. Her grandson rushed to a nearby hospital to get a manual tank, but by the time he returned, she had died from an apparent heart attack.

 

Others died fleeing the storm. On Wednesday, police discovered the bodies of an 89-year-old man and his 66-year-old wife next to their car in a vacant lot on Staten Island. Police believe the couple died after their car became submerged in water.

 

Most drowned alone in bedrooms, living rooms and basements that flooded.

 

One 84-year-old victim in Queens used a wheelchair, meaning she probably couldn’t have fled the rising water. But other older victims weren’t homebound. They chose to stay and risk their lives, perhaps too stubborn or too weary to do otherwise.”[i]

 

Jesus laments the suffering of widows.

 

On this Veterans Day weekend, there are other widows and widowers to remember.

We tend to remember most the sacrifice of the soldiers themselves…

but what about the sacrifice of their families?

 

There are 2000 widows in the US as a result of deaths of military personnel in Iraq.

They are called ‘gold star wives’ but it is not the gold star they were looking for.

For many, the war will never be over.
“Karen Mendoza, whose husband, Marine Maj. Ray Mendoza, 37, was killed in November 2005 when he stepped on a land mine      says, “Being a widow is a full-time job.”

 

The life that the couple had planned when they met as students at Ohio State  was instantly destroyed.

 

“Suddenly I had to have a plan A, plan B, and plan C for the next 20 years,” she said, Among the most important of those plans was “providing an environment for my children to grow and grieve.”[ii]

 

And these are just the war widows in the United States.

In Iraq, from various conflicts over the past 20 years, there are close to 900,000 widows – 9% of women!

Faced with such large numbers, the Iraqi government can’t care for them – they receive about $80/month in benefits.[iii]

 

Jesus laments the lack of care for widows.

 

This is not a text of praise.

This is a text of lament.

And yet it is also a text of hope.

 

When the widow drops her last two cents into the offering box,

she is making an investment in hope.

She has not given up her faith in a loving God.

She has not given up her belief that her gift however small means something.

She has not given up her trust that however meager her life is, somehow God can do something with her gift to help others.

 

This widow’s faith is remarkable.

Jesus laments her situation, but yet she refuses to see herself simply as a victim.

Instead she decides to do something about it.

She gives so that others’ lives might be better than hers.

She makes an investment in the lives of those yet to come.

She makes an investment in hope.

 

Lament without hope is despair.

Lament with hope… now that is the gospel!

 

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

 

 

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