Lectionary Scriptures for this Sunday
Ruth 3:1 – Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, said to her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you.
1 Kings 17:10 – When Elijah came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks.
Psalm 146:9: The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
Mark: 12:41-44 -He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
The lectionary passages from the Old Testament, Psalms, and the Gospel for this Sunday all mention widows; Naomi, Ruth, the widow from Zarephath, the widows God watches over and upholds, and the poor widow who gave all she had to the temple treasury.
We do not know how the husbands of the widows died. We can assume that some died because of natural causes, others because of disease, others by accident, others by violence, others by war. The widows mentioned are economically, emotionally, and socially vulnerable. But, God watches over them and upholds them. Ruth gets remarried to Boaz and her mother-in-law Naomi receives a household and protection, the widow from Zarephath and her son survive the drought and famine, and the nameless widows are watched over and upheld by God and Jesus.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus takes a seat near the temple treasury to watch people put their money into the treasury. He recognizes a widow from among the crowd and is struck by the extravagance of her sacrificial offering. Jesus is so moved with sympathy by her action that he draws attention to it for the sake of his disciples who were maybe paying more attention to the large sums of offerings given by the rich donors.
One of the churches from my two-point charge in El Paso, Texas had the practice of posting the amount of tithes and offerings given by the church members on the bulletin board by the entrance of the sanctuary. The donors were listed according to the amount of their giving with those who gave the most each month at the top of the list and those who gave the least each month at the bottom of the list. The treasurer told me that the list was posted to teach and motivate people to give more. At the bottom of the donor list was the name, Albina Garcia – $ 28.50.
I came to know Albina very well during my four years in El Paso. She widowed early and never remarried. She was formerly from the Pentecostal tradition but became a United Methodist in 1954. Albina taught Sunday School at La Trinidad United Methodist Church for over 50 years. She raised three sons on her Social Security benefit, which by the time I got to El Paso in 1997 had grown to $ 285.00 a month. She cared for her brother for 50 years, a Korean War Veteran who lived with her but never came home from the war. Albina was a woman of prayer. She taught and mentored me more about the life and practice of prayer and discernment than seminary ever could. I gathered from my visits to her home that Albina was financially distressed. Three months into my appointment in El Paso, I thought it would be pastoral to let her know that God would not mind if she kept her $ 28.50 and used it for her needs. Big mistake, huge!
Albina listened to my pastoral counsel then said to me in Spanish, “Brother, with all due respect, who are you to take away the blessing of my giving for the Lord’s work?” She continued, “I’ve always tithed, and God has always watched over me. For now, I give $ 25.50 on the first Sunday of the month, then $ 1 a week at Sunday School for the remaining three weeks of the month. On months with five weeks, I hold the .50 cents from the first Sunday and give it on the fifth Sunday so that I have something to give to the Lord every week. I’ve been widowed for 50 years, and I’ve never gone hungry. I’ve seen miracles too numerous to mention over the years and experience the unspeakable blessing of daily and intimate communion with God. God has made a way when I thought there was no way. It was not easy, but I have raised my boys in the Lord. I do not give to get anything from God, I give because God has never left me and because God has provided.”
I left Albina’s home that afternoon, drove to the church and went straight to the bulletin board where the donor declension sheet was posted and took it down. The treasurer asked if I knew what had happened to the list when he saw me on Sunday. I told him the list was not necessary because while financially accurate, it was misleading. I said, if the list is intended to teach and motivate people to give, they could learn a thing or two by starting from the bottom of the list, with Albina, the extravagantly generous widow and her monthly tithe of $ 28.50 a month. I know I did.
Most loving God defender of the widows and the orphans, we pray for the widows this day in all our world. May the precious moments and memories of their loved ones be held forever in their hearts. Comfort them with your abiding presence in their moments of loneliness and sorrow. Care and provide for them as you have promised. Renew them with the joy of life and sustain them in faith, hope, and love. Amen.