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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

I Wish We Knew What Happened to the Widow Next - 11/11/2018

I wish we knew what happened to the widow next.

We get so drawn into her story through Jesus here. And even more so, I found, with just a little more information that helps to set the scene.

The treasury where Jesus and his disciples sit watching the people was in the Court of the Women at the Temple in Jerusalem. It was an area of about 200 square feet. One could enter through three gates from the Court of the Gentiles that surrounded this temple on earth deemed most holy and closest to God. All the faithful Jewish people of Jesus’ time were permitted into this court. There was a fourth, more elaborate gate on the west side of the court which led to The Court of Man, where only men could enter and be just a little closer to the Holy of Holies area protected deep within the temple complex.

The treasury worked like this. Inside the Court of Women were 13 treasury receptacles for collecting various taxes and offerings. They were made of bronze and shaped kind of like upside down trumpets – narrow at the top where the person put their coins in, and wider at the closed base where the coins collected. Each of these receptacles would be clearly identified as to what tax or offering they were collecting and most of them were about the same size, maybe 2 feet or so tall.

So, for instance, a couple of the trumpets were designated for the half shekel Temple tribute. Maybe that’s where the widow’s coins were going.

Other trumpets collected taxes from women who were in need of a turtledove or young pigeon as a ritual cleanliness offerings following their periods or giving birth. It saved the priests a lot of time doing it this way instead of receiving, inspecting and offering up the unblemished bird for each and every woman who came for the ritual she needed.

Other trumpets collected taxes levied to pay for the wood and incense required by the temple. Some collected a mishmash of taxes … offerings of the Nazarites, the cleansed leper, and voluntary offerings.

So even though we get the impression that Jesus and his students are watching a lot of people … they could tell what kind of taxes and offerings were being made.

Being only 200 square feet we can also imagine that it would be kind of noisy and close – probably a little smelly, plus the sound of all those coins clinking their way to the bottom of the trumpets.

So it probably wasn’t just Jesus who could have noticed this quiet little, unassuming widow. Anyone who was paying attention could have noticed her as she made her way into the court, thin and slow under the weight of her poverty … but she was not the concern of those who were there to very publically add their coins to the clinking cacophony … as if to say “Look at me! This is how much I love the Lord! Not only have I paid my customary tributes and taxes … not only have my sin offerings been made to the temple ministry, but I have also made voluntary offerings. That is how good I am. That is how much I love the Lord!” … and then walk away with pockets still full and heavy with coin and self-righteousness.

So we really get pulled into this story – whether it is from the perspective of someone who has known poverty and can really imagine what it is to be vulnerable to homelessness and hunger and invisibility; or from the perspective of someone who has known wealth and may feel offended or convicted by Jesus’ teaching … maybe we can relate from multiple perspectives.

Just as a side note, notice that Jesus does not condemn people for having wealth. Being a benefactor of God’s abundance is not what is at issue here, or probably in any social justice issue. What is at issue is how those who experience this abundance respond to God and God’s world out of that abundance.

And so Jesus expects to see those who have much step up more to help ensure all of God’s people benefit of God’s abundance. Jesus talks about this a lot in the Gospels. Wealth isn’t bad, but it does come with added responsibilities, with more sacrifice in many ways, which can ask a lot of the wealthy. It’s hard. Jesus explained this just a few weeks ago, when he said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mk 10.25)

It kind of makes wealth seem like more of a calling, a vocation, doesn’t it?. Some scholars have actually proposed there were other treasury trumpets tucked off in quieter places in the court where those called to be wealthy people could make private donations that were secretly used for things like educating children of pious poor Jews who were lucky enough to get noticed by their wealthy Jewish neighbor.

But back to our story, this scene in the Court of the Women at Jerusalem and all the bustling and sounds and energy of it that we can imagine … it really does pull us in and so it is somehow unsatisfying that we do not know what happens to the widow next.

But we don’t know.

And we won’t, not in our earthly journeys anyway. I think it might be something I will want to ask Jesus about someday.

Did he arrange for someone with the wherewithal to ensure the widow had a place to live, nourishing food and warm clothes? … like he did for his own mother from the cross?

Was there some great divine sign for the widow? … an answer to her trust in God so that her flour and oil never ran out until more was available to her? … just like the other widow at Zarephath nearly 1,000 years before?

Yes, I will want to ask about this, among other things. We wondered about that recently in Sunday School …. (note about Questions for Jesus activity) …

So when something like this happens in our study of the bible – when we cannot have an answer – it can be helpful to wonder if maybe it is the way it is on purpose.

Maybe we do not know more about what happens to the widow next because we are meant to live in the tension of this open ended story. It is unsatisfying so it leaves us wanting more, which leads to us imagining what happens next ourselves, maybe imaging ourselves into the situation in ways that are a lot like other situations we actually do experience in our lives.

I can tell a story like this from my own experience – when I was the recipient of a gift given out of poverty that helped change the trajectory of my life.

When I decided to go to seminary, I wanted to do that without incurring a lot of educational debt – in large part because I did hope I would be called to the U.P., and even if  wasn’t, I knew it was likely I would be called to a rural place. Most rural churches that can afford a full time pastor cannot afford to take on one who is straining under $100,000 in educational debt.

And also, it’s debt, right? If you can avoid it, why not do that?

So anyway, my home congregation at the time went beyond what I could have imagined in their support and generosity – to the point where they initially raised more than $10,000 for my seminary fund and then committed to at least $3,000 a year to help support me for the next four years.

When I got the news of this initial gift, my legs literally buckled underneath me and I just sat there and cried. It was simply mind-blowingly generous and affirming. I was overwhelmed.

But then came the generous act of Biblical proportions. At about the same time, I was also getting a few contributions and gifts privately. One of those was from a family who I’d gotten to know a little. In an economic study, they would probably fall under the working poor category. I had come to know them as very sweet and sincere people who really like being active members of that faith community. I gathered at the Table of the Lord with them weekly.

They have a lot of health issues and they have been raising and supporting their granddaughters for as long as I’ve known them. Life can be rough for them and I suspect they are looked down on in places – or that they feel kind of invisible at times.

So I open this card they gave me and it’s kind of thick, I notice. It has some words of best wishes and we know you’ll do great and we can’t give you much, but we hope this helps … kind of stuff, along with a wad of kind previously crumpled bills. I unfolded it to find a $5 and three single dollars. I sat and cried again.

They gave me all they could to let me know I was loved and I was indeed on the right path and they were behind me … they were all in behind me, just like that widow.

And in that act of generosity out of poverty, they have become one of my answers to the question we may always carry with us … What happened to the widow next?


Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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