November Newsletter: “The Stranger and the Widow in Israel”
The Stranger and The Widow in Israel
The usual characters are present: the Sadducees, dressed in fine priestly gowns; the Scribes, decked out in long robes in order to strut the marketplaces as they put people under their rules and laws; the rich people making a public show as they bring their offerings—they’re all there at the Temple. Then enters the widow.
In Israel, the widow is not left alone. Moses had carefully instructed the Israelites how they were to keep the Commandments, what it means to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind, and to look to the Lord alone for every good gift. He taught them of loving neighbor as self, rejoicing that the Lord places you as his servant to care for your neighbor and help him in his life, his family, his home and property, and his reputation. Especially for the weak or the helpless, Moses taught how the fatherless, the orphans, the strangers, and the widows are not left to fend for themselves. Deuteronomy 24:19:
“When you reap your harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this thing.”
The stranger, the fatherless, the widow, do not forget them. Be with them, help them. And why? Because you, too, says Moses, were a slave when you were redeemed.
The True Israel of God
Those having faith in Christ Jesus are God’s Israel. [GAL. 6:16], having been brought into the commonwealth of Israel by the blood of Christ. [EPHESIANS 2:13] This word comes to the church: The stranger, the fatherless, the widow, do not forget them. Be with them. Help them.
In the Israel of God, that is, in the church of Christ Jesus, the unallowable word for a person is … alone. No one is by themselves. No one is left to suffer alone. The one who is lonely, he is comforted with friendship. The one wondering if her life is worth living, she is built up in honor. The one struck with sin, she is not left to suffer in isolation. The one crushed by temptation, the one burdened with shame, he, she, they are not left to suffer as if they are the only ones knowing shame. The church rejects isolation. The words our Lord gives us for each other are comfort, console, suffer with, encourage, build-up.
That is not the way the scribes had been treating the widow. The scribes and teachers of the law are more concerned with telling people what they should do, how they should live, with laws and regulations. They are not known for encouragement and comfort, for freeing people from fears and doubts; they are not known for suffering with one who is hurting. The widow? They have little concern for her.
“Beware of the scribes,” [said Jesus,] “they like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the markets and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, devouring widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers.”
[MARK 12:38-44, OF THE GOSPEL OF PENTECOST 25]
The Widow, Not Alone
Who is with the widow? Who will sit and talk with her, recognizing her as an honored member of the Israel of God, the Church? Who will join with her in her suffering, loving her even as they love themselves? Who will look at her without despising her for her weakness, but looking at her in order to say, You are my sister in Christ?
As we look at the scribes and the teachers of the Law and the finely dressed Sadducees at the Temple, we would say that the widow has been left alone, by herself, pushed to the background, to wither away.
But the widow knows she’s not alone. That’s what her extraordinary offering is all about. And Jesus knows she’s not alone. So he comments on her offering:
And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And [Jesus] called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, 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.”
Her offering was not much for the Temple upkeep—two pennies doesn’t go far. That kind of donation doesn’t get your name imprinted on the side of a building.
Being given from the fullness of her poverty, her offering is her confession that she is not alone. She, a widow, has someone who takes care of her. She is not forgotten. She has a tomorrow. Even with a bank account saying she has no future, even with no man at home to protect her, even though even the scribes and teachers of the Law have nothing to find in her they can work with, yet, for her, there is a tomorrow. She has a future, even into eternity. God has promised her that, and she belongs to the Israel of God.
And Jesus, seeing her confess her trust by giving away what could’ve maybe bought a last piece of bread crust, knows that she has given all that she has to live on, for she knows that she will, indeed, live.
We Have a Tomorrow
The woman’s gift is her testimony that there is One in whom she trusts, One who will never leave her, and that tomorrow, even into eternity, he is with her.
The widow giving her last penny is hardly an account to show how much money the sinner must bring to church. As a lesson in stewardship, the account makes no sense. In all the law and rules spoken by Moses of how to run the Tabernacle, never did God require the Israelite bring every sheep, goat, bull, and basket of wheat or barley, until nothing is left for family tomorrow.
This account of the widow’s offering is not about church bookkeeping or stewardship. It’s about a widow seeing the scribes running away, not wanting to be around one as despised as she, seeing the Sadducees in their fine gowns over in the corner laughing about her, seeing that she has no man to take care of her, and yet knowing she’s not alone.
She has a Lord. He has given her his promise: You are mine; you bear by Name; I will never depart my Name, I will never depart you; you are despised by the world, but I hold you in honor, an honor requiring even my own life-blood that I would sanctify you and hold you up as my own prized possession, as a member of my Israel.
This widow knows a Lord who does not despise those in pain, does not abandon the one who suffers, does not run away from the one covered in shame, who looks at the sinner and says, I am with you; I suffer with you. And you have no shame, no sin, no dark hidden temptation which is able to keep me from embracing you, from loving you, and from cleansing you with my own blood.
Jesus is the widow’s Lord. Her faith was terrible at bookkeeping, but great at holding on to the promise. In his eyes, she is the most treasured possession of all, never despised or abandoned.
Jesus is our Lord, too. Our faith, too, is lousy at bookkeeping, unable to count up good works, to keep record of sins, or to tally shame.
Faith holds only to Jesus. It clings to his promise. It counts on remembering the gift of the holy Name. In Jesus’ eyes, you are the most treasured possession of all. Especially in your weakness, in your emptiness or pain, he is with you. He gave the promise in Baptism, promising to be with you even until the end of the age. As his treasured possession, cleansed by his blood, you are not abandoned.
In the Name of Jesus,
The Gospel offers council and help against sin in more than one way, for God is surpassingly rich in his grace: First, through the spoken word, by which the forgiveness of sin (the peculiar function of the Gospel) is preached to the whole world; second, through Baptism; third, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar; fourth, through the power of the keys; and finally, through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren. Matt. 18:20, “Where two or three are gathered,” etc.
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