I spent an hour last week sitting at the foot of the bed of one of our own. Frieda was then in her last days, having lived 94 years.
She was surrounded that afternoon by two sons, a grand-daughter, two great-grand-daughters, and an old friend. Not to mention the occasional ‘accidental’ visitors who also reside in the Alzheimer’s wing of our local county nursing home.
The hours get long when one is keeping vigil and it helped to pass the time that day by singing. At first the youngest among us were invited to choose the songs. We shared in a rousing rendition of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Soon the tone gentled some as we joined in “You are My Sunshine.” Then one of Frieda’s sons ventured down to the activity room and returned with half a dozen large print song books and soon we were joining in on all those old favorite hymns. “Amazing Grace.” “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.” “Nearer My God to Thee.” “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” There was only one truly gifted singer among us, but it didn’t much matter, for the sound of our faltering voices seemed to soothe Frieda. I think it did the rest of us, too. More than that it helped give shape and meaning to the afternoon. I expect it was an hour none of us will soon forget.
I think there cannot be a more ‘impoverished person’ than what Frieda was by then. At least by many of this world’s standards. For some time now she has not been able to tend to her most basic needs. By last Friday afternoon she was beyond eating, beyond communicating, beyond even opening her eyes. And yet, as we sang, her breathing slowed some. And from time to time, when nothing else was true in those last days, Frieda would move her head in the direction of the sound of our voices.
It was all she had left, and yet she gave it. And somehow even that small movement brought comfort to all those who loved her.
I know nothing of what it means to be Frieda or anyone like her in their last days, utterly dependent on the care of others. In like manner, I know nothing of what it would have been to be the widow in today’s Gospel lesson. Without voice, without legal standing, without resources, without anything at all that I so take for granted… Indeed I imagine the widow in our story now was invisible to most in the Temple that afternoon — it is a wonder Jesus took note of her at all for most of us, much of the time, overlook those like her, our eyes drawn instead to the attention getting robes of the powerful.
And yet, of course, again today, we have Jesus noticing what the rest of us would probably otherwise miss altogether. Drawing the focus to one others might not see at all and in a few words offering an unforgettable example of faithfulness.
Perhaps it is because this story usually falls in the preaching cycle at this time of the year when our attention is turned to financial stewardship for next year’s budget — that we hear this story and think first of the widow’s extraordinary generosity — and of course, she was generous. It seems important though to take a step back and look at the whole picture and to wonder if there are other lessons this unexpected example might just offer.
Is she a reminder to pay attention to those we might normally ignore — to pause long enough to hear the stories behind the most obvious one? Don’t you just wish Jesus had stopped her and asked her where she lived, what routines made up her every day, how long since her husband died, or what finally compelled her to come and give away her last bit of money that day.
Is this story a reminder to all of us of what really matters in this world? That it’s not the size of the gift that matters, but the manner in which it is given?
Is this poor widow a model for all of us of what it is to be utterly dependent? Oh, I expect this is a position not a one of us would envy but that all of us are called to as we live in our relationship with God.
I think back on last Friday afternoon in the nursing home and the sound of those voices. I know most of the world would not have paused to notice one such as Frieda whose breathing was slowing — nor her family who were already grieving one who had loved them so well. It was the love of her grand-daughter sitting closest to her which noticed that the music seemed to help her some. Still, these were gifts given with the whole hearts of those gathered that day. And Frieda, too, gave all she had in return, even if it was something as slight as the turn of her head. By any measure this world offers it was not much at all. But, for those of us gathered around her bed that afternoon, it was everything for even that small movement was a sign of love — and it was all she had.
It was all there was — just as it was all there was for the widow Jesus points to in the Temple now. No, I expect, God doesn’t only expect our generosity. If Jesus’ teaching today is any indication, God expects our all.
- What do you think Jesus is trying to teach in his using the widow’s gift in his teaching today?
- Can you think of examples when someone has given their ‘all?’ What did that look like? What does ‘giving your all’ look like for you?
- Do you think this is a fitting example for a ‘stewardship sermon?’ Why or why not?