Seeing the Widow

Mark 12:38-44

Truly, my whole life — including the years I have served as a pastor — I have heard the story of the widow in Mark’s Gospel as a story of sacrificial giving. It is a story about generosity. It is an image of one who gave all that she had.

This drama and my usual understanding of it is especially powerful as it plays out there in the temple with an accompanying backdrop of the scribes ‘walking about in their long robes’ and garnering the respect and admiration of one and all. Indeed, the contrast is awfully hard to miss as one considers that the more wealthy give so little in comparison to the widow who gives all that she has. It’s not hard to see how for generations, this nameless widow has been held up as a positive example of financial giving. And, of course, she is.

And yet, this time around, I find myself moving in a little different direction. For in fact, this time around I find myself also hearing Jesus’ earlier words about the scribes where he says, “They devour widows’ houses…” Could it be that Jesus points out this particular widow now as a living illustration of what he was just talking about? Could it be that he is pushing his disciples then and now to simply take note of the one who is normally invisible? Could it be that as our attention is drawn to her, we are also made more deeply aware of how the needs of so many like her are too often ignored — or that, just as was apparently the case so long ago, their need is exploited in such a way that those with more just get more?

Too much of the time like the disciples so long ago, unless it’s pointed out to me, I also simply don’t see it — or at least it is so that I do not fully comprehend this contrast and its often accompanying injustice which Jesus speaks of now. Only lately I’ve come to see it. And it is so that I am not at all proud of the fact that other, certainly no more important things, cloud my vision tooo much of the time.

Here is how it has been where I live.

Five months ago our state legislature passed a budget. Only the governor refused to sign it. Setting the politics of this aside, this has had dire consequences.

Now it is so that except for the years I was away for school, I have lived my entire life in the state of Illinois. This is a state that holds a whole lot of good — and, yes,  a whole lot of bad. And nothing demonstrates that ‘bad’ as much as the situation with our state government. It is a seemingly perpetual drama and so I am not proud to say that I have been among those who, until too recently, have not paid a whole lot of attention to the latest crisis. (For an ‘outside’ perspective on our situation, check out this piece in the New York Times.)

And then a headline in last week’s local paper caught my eye. Because we have no state budget, non-profits are not being paid. By now it is catching up with them so that locally, starting this next week, our Meals on Wheels will need to cut services. This means that for the foreseeable future, 225 older, often disabled, adults will not receive a meal on Tuesdays. For some of them it is their only meal of the day. For many of them, it is their only human contact.

I happened to be leading a Bible Study that morning. In our time together we were asked to name out loud our laments. I named this as mine. Others at the table joined me. And pretty soon one offered to call to see what could be done. Before the week was done, in behalf of my congregation, I was able to hand-deliver checks in the amount of $500 to help ensure that the 100 most vulnerable of those Tuesday recipients of noontime meals might still be fed for at least another week. Thankfully, others are mobilizing to do the same.

I am struck, though, at how invisible they have been to me. Honestly, I had no idea that there are so many in our county who are so utterly alone. Indeed, those 100 have no family to check on them at all — no one to step in and fill the gap left as the result of a stalemate between politicians.

Only here is the truth. Stepping in to be sure that 100 are fed for now does nothing to change things when it comes to the big picture. (Yes, of course, it potentially changes everything for them — keeping those individuals from going hungry for food and human contact — and the vital well-check that comes from someone just dropping in.) Only even this doesn’t bring them into much clearer focus for me and countless others like me who have little need or call to interact in a regular way with people whose economic circumstances are so very different from my own. More than that, it doesn’t change a system which has somehow made them with even their very basic needs expendable.

So here is where I am landing with image of the widow dropping her two last coins into the temple treasury this week.  I still think this is a stewardship story. Only it is pointing us to something much larger than how much I will put in the offering envelope this Sunday or any Sunday to come. Rather, this raises questions about how I steward my whole life as well as the lives of those around me — near and far. Most especially those I haven’t noticed. Indeed, it seems to me that our financial stewardship is meant to be just the start of changing us so that in the name of Jesus we might attempt to change the world. And it all starts by seeing. Especially those it is easy not to see.

So Jesus points her out to his disciples then and now.

May our seeing and understanding change us all.

  • How do you hear the story of the widow in today’s Gospel? Is this a story about financial giving? Why or why not?
  • I can’t help but wonder if Jesus were standing next to me today who he would point out now. What do you think? Who might that be?
  • What happens when you ‘see’ or understand something for the first time. How are you changed? What happens next?

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