By Fr. Frank J. Timar, MSC (Illinois Community, Aurora, IL)
Two women hold center stage in this reflection. The story of the first is told in the Book of Kings. The second story is told by the evangelist, St. Mark. It is important that we not romanticize them. Poverty and starvation are not beautiful. We in our day and age can easily miss how incredible these women are. These two widows show us what real faith and trust is like, and we need to take a closer look to really appreciate what they offer us.
There were many widows and orphans in Israel affected by an extended drought, when Elijah was the prophet. His own king and his own community rejected him. So, he goes to Zarephath in Sidon of Phoenicia which is modern day Lebanon. Why would he go to another country, to a people who had never prayed to the God of the Hebrews? Why should he even bother to save those foreigners? Maybe it was God’s way of telling us that everybody is important to Him. Elijah told a poor widow that if she gave him food and drink, the God of Israel would bless her. She did provide for him, and God did bless her. After hearing this story, I asked myself if I would hand over the last bit of food I had, the last meal for my own hungry child, to some foreign holy man? This desperate woman does something so contrary to our instincts that we have a difficult time trying to grasp this. She puts her trust in a God she does not see or know. And her reward is food for a year, outlasting the drought itself.
Our second story is about a Jewish widow. Maybe she has children to care for and maybe she is all alone in a non-caring world. She is not starving, but life is hard and she is down to her last two coins. Picture her now in the Temple in Jerusalem. The fact that she puts the coins in herself tells us about her dire economic status. There’s no man to do it, not a father, not a husband not a son. That puts her in the poorest of the poor category: a woman with no man to take care of her in a society dominated by males. Jesus notices her, probably the only one to do so. She has two coins and puts both in the treasury. She holds nothing back for tomorrow. God is her future! Today, Jesus doesn’t have to tell a story. This woman is the story.
What beautiful role models these two widows are! Both of these women are literally risking their lives to give. Their focus must be survival, their own and their children’s. And yet, what good Samaritans they are.
It has to be embarrassing to those who are well-off that it is often the poorest people and those struggling the most that show the greatest charity, who risk the most to love their neighbor. They are answering Jesus’ challenge: “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and then come follow Me.” No doubt there were times when someone did something for you that was totally unexpected? It’s a wonderful feeling to get help when you really need it, or to have someone do a huge favor for you. Jesus’ poor widow and Elijah’s widow are a preview of Jesus’ total reliance on His Father. Jesus gave His all; He held nothing back. He gave His life so that we may live. Trusting totally in His Father, His dying words were, “Father, into your hands, I commit My Spirit.”. We have so much for which to be grateful as we contemplate Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice?