Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel
by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The readings for Sunday, November 8, 2009:
First Reading: 1 Kings 17:8-16
First Reading (Semi-cont.): Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
Psalm: Psalm 146
Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 127
Second Reading: Hebrews 9:24-28
Gospel: Mark 12:38-44
In some churches this Sunday, congregations will hear the story of Ruth, and then hear about the poor widow in the Gospel. Some pastors will tell their congregations that the lesson to be learned is to be nice to your mother-in-law, and some will wrap the poor widow into a stewardship Gospel as they ask congregations to give until it hurts. What is Jesus really trying to say?
I've often had trouble with the historical church's approach to women, but rarely has the message of Jesus seemed anti-female. With Gospels like this one, at first I'm pleased to see that Jesus uses a fmeale as a model of good behavior. The Gospel seems to fit with the story of the rich young man who is told to give away all that he has to the poor and with the message of Jesus about the yoke we must wear.
But then I stop and think. She's not just any woman. If Jesus just wanted a model of good behavior, he might have stopped there. No, she's not just any woman. She's a widow. Women didn't have much status in the days of Jesus, and widows had even less. Why would Jesus make her a widow?
I suspect that Jesus, as always, has something to tell us about the power structures of his day--power structures that look a lot like power structures of our day. The poor widow is poor not because she couldn't manage her money. No, she was poor because of the class structures put in place to keep her destitute. She is surrounded by men who have no trouble making their financial commitments to the Temple, while she gives all that she has.
Jesus calls us to always--always--help the poor, the destitute, and the outcast. But that is not enough. Jesus also calls us to participate in Kingdom building. We are to work to transform the world so that nobody will be poor and outcast. We are to work towards a world where everyone has enough so that no one has to donate their last coins to the Temple to help the poor.
Helping the poor is charity work, and it's important. We're called to do it. Transforming our society so that we have no poor people in need of charity work is social justice work, and we are also called to do that.
You might think about your own life. Where do you see poor widows in need of help? How can you help transform our society so that at some point there will be no poor widows?
Jesus also has a message that we shouldn't ignore about holding on too closely to our coins. Those of us who are successful have an increasingly easy time believing that we're successful because we're worthy and smart. We have an increasingly easy time believing that we're successful solely because of our own efforts.
Those of us who have suffered misfortune realize that our station in life often has little to do with our efforts. We have the luck or misfortune of the family we're born into. We make decisions early in life about jobs, marriage, education--and those decisions have impacts decades later that we couldn't have realized at the time we made them. There are global forces at work that are much more powerful than our puny efforts in our own behalf.
We like the American Success Story, which tells us that anyone can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. We like that story, although statistics don't bear out the truth of that story--quite the opposite.
Jesus has a different story to tell us, a story where we are truly free, and judged by a different rubric, one that is seldom valued by the world. Jesus values radical generosity, generosity that the world would regard as lunacy. Jesus invites us into the transformative grace of that story.