Society’s Fringe Dwellers
This week's blog is by Rev. John Candy.
Often, something positive eventually comes from a disaster. This does not mean that the disaster was God’s way of achieving the positive. The birth of David results from Ruth’s union with Boaz (encouraged by Naomi), but the biblical events preceding that— Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s incest with his daughters, the famine and death of Naomi’s family— are not God’s preferred method of bringing grace into the world.
If we look at Divorce despite it not being ideal and not what God wants for us it is necessary because of our choices and mistakes. The way God calls us to live as shown in the life of Jesus seems so perfect, yet we are forgiven as we struggle to live in a holy way. Out of divorce can come positive things as we evaluate our own mistakes in the relationship and work towards not making them again. Out of the pain can come positive growth that enables the person going through divorce to be much more fully present and available in their following relationships including maybe a new partner.
One of the first widow’s I ever understood to be a widow was young. She was someone I had known in the community and her husband died of a heart attack while playing basketball. He was twenty-nine. Suddenly, the notion of widowhood became clear to me. It was not that a woman simply outlived her husband, but that there was a blank space at the table, an empty side of the bed, a phone number that goes unanswered, conversations that become one-sided. Widows and widowers of all ages and circumstances frequently surround us. And we forget their status.
We forget that they are among those considered most vulnerable and most wise in Scripture. We forget that God’s heart is with them. It is critical to remember that her beloved, deceased partner may not have been a saint, but she will still grieve. That the person still living is still thinking of their loved one, even if you are afraid to bring up the subject. That she may grow accustomed to her new state, but never stop missing the ones who rest in light. Being widowed, being left out of partnership, should not mean being left out of community.
Let not the community of God forsake those who mourn. It is not enough to say God is with them. We are to be the hands, words, and consolation of the Spirit with widows, orphans, and strangers. Throughout his ministry, Jesus called to attention those on the margins of society, those who had previously gone unnoticed, the poor, the blind, the lame, the beggars, the lepers, military personnel, and widows. It’s a reminder particularly as many of us in Australia and Aotearoa (New Zealand) will be marking Armistice or Remembrance Day which falls this Sunday. These are the same people we find on the margins of our societies today. Those who still are excluded, those whom society looks down on or simply ignores. A widow, living in poverty created by the institution charged with her care. An aged person placed in a Home as there is no one to manage things for them or even visit them.
This gospel reading from Mark 12 that continues today doesn’t seem like good news: A widow giving her all to a corrupt institution, an institution that fails to care for her as it is supposed to do. But she gives anyway. And Jesus commends her giving. He commends her and condemns the system. Jesus holds her up as an example of how small but significant acts can break down a cycle of injustice and corruption.
In the culture of Jesus, widows were non-people. Without a man to support or validate them in society, they were non-beings. Vulnerable and invalid, it was easy not to see them. It is easy not to see the people on our streets living without shelter, food or clothing. It’s easy not see the desperation of the refugees trying to reach countries where they might be better off. It’s easy to blame the poor, the immigrants, the refugees, the disabled and many others who are suffering. Yet, Jesus not only notices widows on many occasions during his ministry, in this week’s text, he actually uses a widow to teach trust and reliance on God.
This gospel is not talking to us about a comparative giving table, steering the prosperous to give more. It is encouragement for those who go against the grain, who practice subversion in whatever way they can, even in the face of injustice. Who, by their subversion, make inroads into creating justice and fairness for all God’s people. It doesn’t always take placards and a lot of shouting for trends and policies to be reversed. Persistent, simple subversion also does the trick.