Friday, July 27, 2012

Out of Her Poverty

In Mark 12 we find Jesus sitting in the temple, watching people put money into an offering box. The rich people are dropping in large sums. And then a widow comes up and drops in two small copper coins. If I am doing the math right, that's about the equivalent of pay for eight minutes of work. We're talking about a dollar or less in our modern equivalent, but it is all she had. It is the end of her rope, the last two coins, the entirety of her financial security.

Jesus recognizes and honors this offering. He calls the disciples over and makes sure they notice. He tells them, "this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."

I sometimes get frustrated at the lack of details in the Biblical stories. Why was that all she had left? Who was not taking care of her? What were her plans after she left the temple? One great thing about not having the details is that we don't get to judge her feelings and thoughts. Surely Jesus knew her heart, but it is not for us to know. She could have tossed in the coins in defeat. Why not give it all when all she had mattered so little? It could've been with a hopeful prayer, "All for you, God, I trust your provision." We do not know the state of her heart, all we know are her actions, and those Jesus respected. I have certainly seen God remind me of his truth in my most cynical moments as well as fill me with peace in my moments of hope. One emotion or another does not grant us God's favor.

There are so many other accounts of widows in the scripture. One of the stories that stands out in my memory from my childhood Sunday School days is the story of Elijah and the widow who made him bread. Whoever taught me the stories of Elijah as a child must have been creative, because I can clearly recall acting out the scenes with my fellow sunday-school mates. Ravens by a brook. Fire lapping up the water on an altar. And, a widow, pouring out her last drop of oil to find an unending stream. (1 Kings 17-18)

For those of you who lacked such a creative teacher with a passion for 1 Kings, let me remind you of the details.

The prophet Elijah predicts a drought. He is hiding from Ahab and Jezebel who seek to kill him and camps out by a stream for a while, drinking the fresh water and feasting on the bread and meat that ravens bring him. Eventually, the brook dries up.

God tells Elijah to go to Zarephath. God says, "I have commanded a widow there to feed you." So, Elijah heads to Zarephath. When he gets there, he sees a widow gathering sticks. He asks for water and as she is getting it, he asks her for bread.

She tells him that she has no bread baked, just a small amount of flour and oil. She is here, gathering the sticks, so that she may go inside, bake the last of her supplies into bread that she and her son may eat it, and then die. It is their last meal. It is all she has left. It is not even a day's worth of food. It is too little to even provide a real meal.

The widow was willing to gather water for Elijah from the well. Her initial refusal to give him bread is not defiance nor is she being inhospitable. It is simply that she has so little that it would not do much for Elijah, but it is one last meal she can provide her son.

Elijah encourages her on, telling her that if she makes the bread, "the jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty until the day the Lord sends rain upon the earth."

And she did it. We don't know if she poured out the drop of oil with a faithful, expectant heart. Or, if it was with resignation that the supplies would not matter much to she and her son anyway so she might as well give it away. But she did as Elijah said and it was true. She had an unending supply of flour and oil.

Her last bit of sufficiency became great, it became enough.

Based on the next part of their story I tend to think that her baking of the bread was not without doubt or uncertainty.

Her son became sick, and eventually he stopped breathing. She accuses Elijah, "You have come to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!" Elijah asks for her son and he takes him to an upper room, where he prays and stretches out over him and asks God for the child's life back.

It is then, after her son is restored to life, that the woman says to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord is in your mouth."

A widow gave her lasts drops of oil. It nourished a prophet, saved her son, and showed her the truth of the word of the Lord.

A widow gave her last two coins. It stood out to the Messiah, taught the disciples, and showed the world through scripture what the Lord desires.

This is part of an ongoing series where I look at females and feminine imagery in the Bible. Click the "FeminineFridays" tag for more!

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