November 11, 2012
1 Kings 17:8-16 and Mark 12:38-44
This story of Elijah is one I use when I talk about our Discretionary Fund. It always reminds me of the jug of oil and jar of meal that never run out because we are taking care of God’s people.
Remember the background of this story? Ahab, the King of Israel has married a foreigner, Jezebel, and let her bring her god, Ba’al into the promised land with her. Soon everyone was worshipping her foreign god, engaging in rites to this god along with worshipping Israel’s God, Yahweh. Elijah warned Ahab repeatedly that he should return to worshipping the true God and throw out the false god and all it’s priests. But Ahab was much too cool to listen to Elijah. So God shut off all the rain in the country, and sent Elijah to tell Ahab and Jezebel that it would not rain until they had done what God asked. So of course, there was famine and Jezebel blamed Elijah, and tried to kill him. Always the way kings and queens cope with disaster, blame someone else.
God sent Elijah out of the country to Zaraphath, where God had already commanded a widow to take care of the prophet until the famine was over. This is so ironic, widows had no means of support. What was God thinking? You can imagine how pleased this woman must have been to have been appointed to take care of another person, since she is already having a hard time taking care of herself and her son. But by trusting that the ridiculous request being made of her was not so ridiculous after all, she had the support she needed to continue to feed her family. If you read more of the story, her son dies, and Elijah brings him back to life through intercession with God. The widow really comes to trust that Elijah’s God is the true God, and to believe.
So we have another widow and another story of trust in the Gospel story. I have heard this one used so often to lift up the trust of the widow in God’s care that she is willing to give God all she has. It is used at Stewardship time in those sermons that remind us that giving back to God is a matter of our faith.
I’d like to throw another thought into the mix. Jesus is talking the legal lights of the Temple to task for their arrogance and insensitivity to the real needs of the people. The scribes are the Biblical and therefore the legal scholars of the church. Some of them and also some of the Pharisees, a class of theological teachers, have gotten so wrapped up in their position and the privileges it gives them that they are apparently fattening their own estates through their work. They have become so centered on the care and feeding of the Temple – how beautiful it is and what it costs to maintain it, that they have even resorted to ruinous taxes to keep it up. It sounds to me as if Jesus finds it offensive that a widow with no income should have to put her last two coins into the temple fund, rather than being supported by the community.
The fact is that people don’t like this Gospel either way. They don’t want to talk about money and trust in the same lesson. No one likes to hear that they should give more, especially if it seems as if everyone else is having an easier time financially than they are, and that they are already at the end of their financial rope. People who have worked hard to make themselves secure and comfortable don’t want to hear that people who have not been as successful financially should have any claim on what they have worked so hard for.
We all forget how privileged we are: to be born in this country instead of a slum in Calcutta, to be part of a community that prays together and cares for each other, to live in a country where there is a social safety net. We also forget how our culture is so focused on money and success as a measure of your worth, and that every public conversation is directed at making us consumers rather than lifting up our gifts for community. So much of our social understanding isolates us and makes us feel as if anything good that comes to us is solely based on our own effort, and if we are not flourishing financially, we have somehow failed.
We forget that our health, our ability, our comfort, our wealth, our friends and family, every advantage, is a gift, a blessing, sent by God to let us know we are loved. It isn’t that when money and health and comfort flee that we are being punished, or that God loves us less, it is just that God is providing a different way for us to be taken care of. It is then that we are able to receive love and comfort and the gifts of others, so that when we are in a position to give, we will know what a difference it makes. God has every right to ask us to give back 100% our gifts, in fact, Jesus told the rich, young man that what he lacked was giving up his wealth and learning how good it feels to give things away. But God asks us only to recognize that all of life is a gift; that in God’s love there is always a way for us to thrive. We are so fortunate that we have so many ways to give to say thank you for all the blessings, both financial and physical. We are so blessed to be able to give and also to receive.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.