MOMENTS WITH THE MINISTER: Justice for the widows

By Frank Drenner
Special to the Herald Democrat

"Go to Zarephath,” God says to the prophet Elijah. He shows up and sees a woman gathering sticks. When the stranger asks her to give him some food, she explains her situation very matter of factly: “[I’m preparing a last meal] for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet says, “God will provide for you and your son-- only feed me first.” She is torn: her need and her son’s need, and the social expectation to offer hospitality to strangers. She agrees to help the prophet. And it works! The three of them eat that day, the next day, for several days. The oil and flour do not run out.

And then the boy dies.

She confronts her guest: “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” Elijah is overcome with emotion, pleading to God: "O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” And the child recovers. The woman says, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

Her story is very similar to an encounter Jesus had with a widow in Luke Chapter 7. In Mark 12, Jesus lifted up another faithful widow as an example: she gave her only two coins as an offering at the Temple. Widows may be great material for life lessons, but their lives were very, very hard. In fact, caring for widows and orphans was a pillar of ancient Israel, as it is for any society claiming to build itself on any sense of justice.

I came across a sermon by Rev Dr James Forbes this week, preached at the Riverside Church of New York City many years ago, called “Emancipation from Poverty.” Dr Forbes’ text was Luke 4, Jesus’ first sermon, preached at his home synagogue. Quoting from Isaiah 61, Jesus reads,

“‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Dr Forbes turns his attention to the Riverside Church and contemporary American society: “There comes a time when people have to decide whether their mechanisms of avoidance must be given up so that they can respond to the mandate of Christ. You cannot read the Bible and cut out every section that has to do with responding to the poor and the oppressed. You wouldn't have very much Bible left.” The witness of scripture is very clear:

Isaiah 10:1-2

Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees,

who write oppressive statutes,

to turn aside the needy from justice

and to rob the poor of my people of their right,

that widows may be your spoil,

and that you may make the orphans your prey!

Zechariah 7:9

"Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another."

Dr Forbes says, “I believe that the reason we have not accomplished the emancipation from poverty that Jesus declared is because we have not eradicated the impoverishment that exists within… ourselves. Either we don’t like ourselves well enough, or we haven’t matured to the place where we are able to show concern for others. Or we have not that connection with the divine presence and power. It’s not just folks who are hungry who need liberation. Until we are hands-on involved in a liberation struggle, we won’t have a sense of victory… we fall beneath our calling.”

The widow of Zarephath suffered to the breaking point. The drought and famine have devastated her life, taking everything precious to her. But even there she is able to live a complete life: length, breadth, height.

Let us live in the dimensions of the complete life: love of self, love of neighbor, and love of God, and everyone, including and especially the windows, the orphans, and the poor, will experience God's justice, liberation, and salvation.

Frank Drenner

Frank Drenner was ordained in 1998 and has served as pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Sherman since July 2016. He is married to Christy, and together they have three sons. Find more from Drenner at The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.