Well, the government appears to have given me back the hour it took away so long ago. Which didn’t really change anything because the cat still came at the usual time and sat on my head and batted my face until I woke up. Then she went away to fortify herself with several mouthfuls of something, leaving me here to try to make sense of the day and the lections.
Some people have moved All Saints to today because it happened on a Monday. Which would make today Faux-ll-Saints. I, however, am not one who pass up the chance to say a little something about the readings apportioned for today. But first, go watch this. It’s a very beautiful person wearing a pretty fantastic trouser ensemble, standing with a microphone in what some seem to be calling a church. Behind her on a battleship gray faux-wall is emblazoned the word “Excellence: Solving for X” with a large red X behind that. The outfit, I must say, is too elegant for the industrial feel of the stage. She should be out having a fancy lunch with those gorgeous little sandwiches, not breathing sarcastically into a microphone about other people. But what do I know (not much). I assume this must be the sermon portion of the worship time—at least that is what mean people are saying on Twitter. She is talking about comparison as the wrecker of, well, I suppose she will probably end up talking about joy or something like that.
Essentially, she says, she was happy with her own workout time, in which she was lifting twenty-pound weights, wearing mascara, and feeling good. That was until a much more fit woman walked in, wearing some cute matching workout outfit and much more make-up. This person started lifting forty-pound weights. The word “lumpy butt” features prominently in the clip, with a cameo of the word “spanx.”
Well, you know, we all feel poor and sad too much of the time. And women the world over have a rough time of it. Including that one this morning, who happens to be gathering up a few sticks off the ground when Elijah, so desperate and discouraged, arrives at the gates of her town, a place far outside of Israel. God has sent him there because, he says, “I have commanded a woman there to feed you.” In usual divine habit, however, God hasn’t yet told the widow about it. She is gathering her sticks and is happy to give Elijah some water, but when he asks her for food, she balks. “I have,” she says, “only a handful of flour in a jar, and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.”
Surely this must be hyperbole, you might think, walking back and forth in Aldi the day after Halloween, confronted, in all the poverty of your spirit, with an entire wall of Christmas Candy. How many people are there out there who are contemplating what they expect will be their last meal? Not because they are on death row, but because there just isn’t any more food? I don’t know that many, actually. Most people today can get a scrap of something from somewhere. It’s probably not the meal they want, and it’s probably going to be unhealthy, but at least it’s actual food.
If I were Elijah (thank goodness I’m not), knowing what God had brought me there for, looking at a thin, despairing woman gathering up a few sticks in a famine to eat the last little bit of food, I would have been pretty disappointed. Why couldn’t God have sent him to a person with some cash? To someone who could have cooked him a nice dinner and had plenty left over so that they could eat it all again tomorrow? Add to that, asking this starving person to take that last bit of food and give it to him…that doesn’t sound like a nice thing to have to say. That seems, honestly, like many of those horrible things that Christians are always supposed to be saying, but they are usually too embarrassed to, which is the truth—that the only way to live at any time is to give up your little all into the hands of Jesus. Unlike me, however, Elijah is a man of courage and he launches right in. “Do not fear,” he says. Give me the bit you have, and the flour and oil will end up being enough. And they are. He and the widow and her son eat that flour and the oil for the rest of the days of the famine.
Fast forward a long time (I’m not good at math, which is great, because soon no American will ever have to do it anymore) to the person who came in the name and power of Elijah, the person about whom it was said, “Someone greater than Elijah will come.” He is spending his afternoon sitting in the courts of the Temple, watching people coming in and putting in their offerings. “Many rich people,” says Mark, “put in large sums,” probably with the help of a trumpet and a servant who read out the amount and which box it was going into. It was a pretty exciting business, to sit there watching all the people give, commenting on the outfits, the elegance, the entourage. Then comes a “poor widow,” who, Mark says, “put in two small copper coins which make a penny.” Which is not much at all, but which is all she has. Presumably, she will go home and die.
It is interesting to me that the lectionary people paired this text with the Widow of Zarephath, because, though it looks on the face like Jesus is commending this woman, if you look at the whole chapter and the one following, before Jesus observes this woman giving her little all, he has condemned the rulers of Israel for “devouring widows’ houses,” and directly after he prophesies about the destruction of the Temple and the coming of the apocalypse.
She is being devoured by a false system of worship. She is being taken advantage of by the powers that be, who preached various forms of prosperity gospels, who bought up property and left nothing for the poor to live on and yet called themselves righteous all the same. This, for Jesus, is a signal of the end of the age, a further sign that it is time for him to lay down his own life for the sake of the lost and perishing.
I don’t want to get all apocalyptic or anything—being neither Elijah nor Jesus, I am inclined to stand around twiddling my spiritual thumbs like everyone else—but it seems to me that, though most Americans have plenty to eat, yet when those people go to church, they are served up nothing but crumbs, if that. How many women, and men for that matter, struggle along to church and don’t actually get fed by the Word and Sacrament together? Not having enough dinner is not our problem. The problem is that, having such an abundance of stuff, of wealth, of everything we could desire, we are all mostly still discontent, still grasping for more, and too fearful to put ourselves entirely into the hands of Jesus.
I mean, I’ll include myself. I’m not starving to death by any means. My greatest moments of sadness are when I am trying to say no to a gorgeous slice of cake, when I feel jealous about the beautiful outfits of other women, when I realize that, like the woman walking back and forth across the stage, I really do hate people who appear to be better than me. Trust me, like her, I am totally “relatable.”
Meanwhile, “the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.” After all, he “made the heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them.” He “keeps faith forever” and “executes justice for the oppressed.” In all the vast wealth of this nation, most of us may not be able to tell who is really being helped, or what kind of providence God is preparing to lavish on those who are bowed down. We might, though, in small ways, contribute the little we feel like we have. We might try to tell the truth—that whatever you have if you don’t have Jesus, you will perish. We might try to be there for the materially starving, and the spiritually malnourished.
After all, when you give Jesus whatever you have, including whatever you think you need to be happy, he doesn’t leave you there to starve. He gives you himself, which is what you were looking for all the time, though you may not have known it. If you go to church, you will get a little taste, a sip, and, though the feeling of being too poor threatens to overwhelm you, Jesus isn’t sitting watching you struggle along, he is the very bread that will nourish you until he finally comes again.