A Tale of Two Women

I confess that I am puzzled by the inclusion of 1Kings 17: 10-16 along with Mk 12: 38-44. They seem to be very different stories with very different lessons.

As you recall, in Kings, Elijah stops a woman gathering sticks and asks for a drink of water. She stops her work and begins to comply when he asks for bread as well.

She tells him she has only a bit of flour and a small portion of oil left, just enough for one more meal for her son and herself. After this, she expects to die from starvation.

Elijah tells her to bring him the cake anyway and then feed herself and her son, for the Lord will not let the flour be gone nor the oil. Indeed, neither went empty for an entire year.

In Mark, we have the famous story of the widow who enters the temple and gives her last two coins to the treasury while the rich give great amounts. Jesus reminds that she has given of all she had while they give only of their excess.

Both deal with the end of things. The end of the flour and oil, and the end of one’s entire savings. Both women would appear destitute. And indeed we do learn somewhat different lessons.

From the widow in Kings we learn that when we are near the end of our ability to soldier on, relief will come. We some how or from some one, receive the strength to go on. Just at the moment when we feel we cannot endure one second more, we find that we can. All of us have had occasion to marvel at someone who manages to keep going when things seem hopeless.

During the last few years we have witnessed countless people who have lost jobs, fallen behind on their mortgages and literally live hand to mouth each and every day. How often do they lament that they have no idea how they can pay this bill or find enough to purchase food next week? Yet they do, and they manage albeit in great difficulty. Until one day, one day, the new job comes or the bank finally agrees to a refinance. The dark days are over.

The widow in Kings reminds us that we must never give up hope and our faith that better days will come, that we can endure this present pain, that God continues to love and uphold us and we will, with God’s help, find a way.

In Mark, we have a woman who is voiceless in her society. She is the prey of the rich scribes and Pharisees for she has been taught that her first obligation is not to her own well-being, but to the Temple. She may well have given up the money for food that day. She shows us in her simple piety what true giving is all about.

The rich are proud of their foundations and their philanthropy. Many of us are proud of our service on Thanksgiving at a soup kitchen. Similarly we might be proud of the commitments we make to our churches, contributing to the fund that builds the new kitchen, or the new landscaping. We too, feel good when we drop our dollar in the kettles outside the stores at Christmas time.

But we are throwing our excess into the Temple kettle. We are almost never giving away that which will cause us great suffering or loss.

And the lesson is not that we should. An argument could be made that the widow in Mark is to be lamented that she would risk her very life in service to the Temple. Her first duty was to at least live so that she might guide others to a greater understanding of charity and love for her fellow beings. Similarly we should not give to the point where we become an unnecessary burden on society ourselves.

What we should learn from this teaching is that we should not think ourselves esteemed for our small acts. They should be not things to crow about but things that we do as often as we are able. If we cannot give greatly in funds, and even if we can, we should be looking for ways to serve those least among us with our time, and our compassion.

The widow in Mark should shame us as to our own lack of thinking when we casually make our offerings. She should shame us into remembering that our offerings are not just monetary but may come in many forms. We are resourceful, as the widow in Kings reminds us. God will help us if we call upon Him. We will find a way.

Amen.

 

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Debarghya Mukherjee
    Nov 11, 2012 @ 11:25:15

    wonderful story.

    Reply

  2. Sherry
    Nov 11, 2012 @ 13:25:34

    Thank you, and blessings to you.

    Reply

  3. Tim
    Nov 11, 2012 @ 14:26:09

    Sherry, your thoughts here synch up beautifully with what we heard at church today. Our pastor presented her sermon as a dialogue with the widow–performed by an actress in our congregation–first pointing out that the Bible mentions 61 widows and asking why the writers continually return to them as teachers of essential lessons in charity and justice.

    The dialogue put an interesting spin on why the widows in Mark and 1 Kings give everything they have. In both cases, it was suggested they’d reconciled themselves that they had nothing to lose. They’d already lost their husbands and ways of life. There’s an element of surrender in their stories–and that touched me deeply. Then when we pair that with the miracle provided for the Kings widow and Jesus’s praise for the widow in Mark, we have to ask (as you do here), how much we are willing to surrender?

    I too believe with you that times of dire need will pass; as the spiritual says, “Trouble don’t last always.” Grace and goodness arrive, often just when all hope seems lost. Yet this principle of surrendering all challenges those of us in healthier circumstances to ask how much we’re willing to sacrifice in order to be messengers of God’s grace and goodness to those in need. I truly believe there’s a big chunk of Elijah in all of us, if only we’ll allow it to lead us.

    Thank you for such an eloquent reflection.

    Blessings, dear friend,
    Tim

    Reply

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