8 November 2009 – Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17/Mark 12:38-44
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St.Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
Widows As Icons of God’s Faithfulness
It is almost too easy on this day of Stewardship Pledge Ingathering to focus attention on the Widow’s Mite. It may be more fruitful in that regard simply to observe that Jesus sits, watches and takes note of just what people like us put into the offering plate!
After all the scribes Jesus is taking down a few notches are good, faithful church going folk like most of us. True, they are more interested in being seen as faithful, and seen to be praying while all the while they “devour widow’s houses” – a quaint Biblical metaphor for what we might call foreclosure, a not unfamiliar activity in today’s so-called “economy.”
I think it may be most productive for us, therefore, to focus on just what “widows” represent in Biblical terms. First off, without a husband to support them, widows represent a class of persons who are without resources. Unless a relative takes them in, they generally live on the streets. And typically, in those days, even if a relative takes them in, they are relegated to becoming a household servant – which in those days were simply called slaves. The folks who wash the feet of a guest or visitor.
Widows in the Bible, however, are also considered to be a protected class. Like the poor and resident aliens (foreigners), widows are to be given special consideration for charity – the Biblical word for “love” in such phrases from Leviticus that tell us to love God and “love our neighbor – the poor, the widows, and the strangers in the land.”
This morning we have before us the example of two extraordinary widows – Ruth and the widow making an offering to God of all that she has – two coins.
On a day when we are asked to consider just how much of God’s money we are willing to give back for the mission and ministry of God’s Church, we might do well to simply meditate on the lives of these two widows, who odd as it may seem, are presented as two of the most faithful people in all of Holy Writ.
I once had to translate the Book of Ruth. To this day I find it to be the most remarkable and important story in the entire Bible – in that it is a narrative summary of just what God in Jesus came later to teach us.
It takes place a long, long time ago, as most really good stories do. There is a famine in Israel. The rumor is that there is food in neighboring Moab, so Naomi and her husband Elimelech go to Moab with their two sons. The famine is long, the boys marry Moabite girls – that is gentile-foreigners, aliens.
The famine is so long that Elimelech and the two sons die, leaving Naomi, Ruth and Orpah (from which we get the modern day Oprah!) all widows. Naomi decides to go home having heard there is now food in the land. Perhaps a distant relative will have mercy on her and give her work to do. She urges the two daughters-in-law to go home to their relatives in Moab, since life for a gentile-alien woman would not be so good where she is headed. Orpah goes home, Ruth says she will go with Naomi and help care for her mother-in-law. How times have changed!
It happens that a relative, Boaz, is hiring workers to harvest his fields. He agrees to take on Ruth, which entitles her to pick up the gleanings – the leftovers in the field – to take home and feed Naomi and herself. As the threshing season ends, Naomi hatches a plan – Ruth is to go into the threshing room after the men have done their work and had a few drinks, and curl up around Boaz’s feet as he falls asleep.
Ruth has no time to think about it. The text tells us that Ruth does as “Naomi had commanded her.” The word commandment has great depths of meaning for those of us who claim to live a Biblical faith. She does not hesitate to do as she is commanded to do.
The rest, as they say, is history. Boaz marries Ruth, they have a child, Obed, that is “one who serves,” and Obed becomes the grandfather of David, only the greatest ever King of Israel!
All this because of Ruth’s faithfulness to Naomi – not to let her mother-in-law become a beggar or slave. Ruth was willing to risk bigotry, rejection, becoming a slave-worker herself to take care of Naomi.
Her faithfulness to Naomi is an icon of how we are to be faithful to God in Christ.
Like the widow at the Temple treasury, Ruth was willing to risk and to give all that she had.
These stories are meant to be about us. How much of who we are and what we have are we willing to give as an offering to the God who has given us all we have and more – God gave us his only Son that we might have life and have it abundantly.
That the Bible raises up before us the lives of these two widows as examples for us as to what the life of faith requires of us is truly astonishing.
No more astonishing, however, than what we can do for the life of God’s world if only we were to remember them and emulate their lives in all that we say and all that we do.
Ruth and the Widow in the Temple :
What can they teach us about Christian charity and love today?
What can they tell us about who we are called to be?
What can they tell us about what we are called to do this day?
Jesus is still watching to see what we put in the Temple treasury.