Holy Week at Gloria Dei

The stranger, the orphan, the widow - Reflections 11-8-18

 Texts for Sunday November 11, 2018
 25th Sunday after Pentecost

 1 Kings 17:8-16
 Psalm 146
 Hebrews 9:24-28
 Mark 12:38-44

 “Wow. Just wow.” 

 That was my comment on a Facebook Album that came across my page last week; I don’t even remember who shared it. I support the work of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, but it wasn’t them. I wonder if one of those infamous Facebook analytics triggered something?  The album is entitled Migrant Caravan, portraits of women. Sean T. Hawkey is the photographer who, according to his page, is documenting the caravan on behalf of international church alliances who work on the causes of migration such as climate change, insecurity, and poverty in Central America.

Each of the 47 photos have the same caption: Honduran immigrant woman after 60km journey today, including several hours walking. His page goes on to say that they had been walking for 11 days in dreadful heat… carrying children, or pushing buggies. All shared horror stories of rape or kidnap with him. Many of them are widowed; many are mothers.

Note: I can't figure out any easy way to provide a link for you. If you are on Facebook, you can search for the photographer or the album. If not, the photographer has a website - you will get the idea.

Two of the texts of this coming Sunday are stories of widows. I picture the one in the 1 Kings reading as a very young woman with a young child and the one in Mark as an old woman. Both are suffering from a loss of security and support and have very little of anything.

Throughout the Bible, it very clear that God, as the psalm for this week says, cares for the stranger, the orphan, and the widow. And the Bible is equally clear that we are called to care for “widows, orphans, and aliens/foreigners”. “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.”  Deuteronomy 27:18

These three groups were especially vulnerable in the patriarchal society of the Bible. They had few rights, and were prey for people like those alluded to by Jesus. You know, those who piously strut around in public and who “devour widows’ houses”. I read one explanation of that phrase that said a woman without a son to take over after his father’s death needed to find a male custodian to hold her property in trust and sometimes widows asked religious pillars like scribes to do that. Surely one can trust them, right? Jesus implies that some situations didn’t quite work that way. Instead the widow’s houses were “devoured” and they were left homeless, or invited to become servants 

BTW, one of those Honduran women wept as she said “from the moment girls are born, men conspire to ruin their lives.”. Patriarchy is not extinct.

Because drought was overtaking the whole region, the widow in 1 Kings had not only lost her husband, but she and her child are also one meal from starvation because of famine. This situation is still common today – it is the most vulnerable who suffer first in any natural disaster. Elijah is actually the one who left his home and is the alien in this story. God has directed him to cross the border, to literally go to the margins of his nation, demonstrating that all people are in God’s reach. God has chosen one of the most vulnerable to play a key role in God’s plans for Israel. 

We don’t know as much about the widow in the Gospel, except that Jesus recognizes the contrast between this vulnerable widow and the scribes who take advantage of the vulnerable.

The offering was a catch-22 for the widow. She was sincerely giving thanks to God through this religious practice; in fact, she was giving her all. But, at the same she also supported a system that was designed and destined to exploit her. As D. Mark Davis puts it, “She is giving all that she has and she is abetting a system that will take away all that she has”.

Was she aware of that? I have no idea. I do know that it is possible to live in and contribute to a system that is offensive and oppressive. Perhaps she wanted to contribute to the common good in spite of the broken system through which she gave. Or perhaps her offering was a public protest against economic injustice. Whatever her reasons, Jesus saw her. 

And those Honduran women on the move? Jesus sees them too.

Over and over, God calls to us to see the vulnerable, the marginalized, the oppressed, and downtrodden. God calls us to open our eyes.

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245