Poverty is a women’s issue. Nearly six in ten poor adults are women, and nearly six in ten poor children live in families headed by women. Poverty rates are especially high for single mothers, women of color, and elderly women living alone, so says the National Women’s Law Center, Washing ton, D.C. We see it in our country and we read of it in our bible.
Look at the life of the widow of Zarephath. She has no rights, no money, and no one to support her. The food runs out; she prepares for death; that is, until the prophet appears. The prophet Elijah visits Zarephath. He encounters this particular widow gathering sticks. She is gathering sticks for her last meal with her son. He asks for water. He asks for food. The widow protests. But Elijah insists and informs her of God’s design. So the widow of Zarephath gives her last bit of food to the guest. And what happens? She and her son eat and they live.
Poverty is a women’s issue, and, God is very much concerned.
Remember the widow at the temple. Mark’s story of the widow’s “mite” is famous. The word comes from the King James Version from a culture that called a small coin, a “mite.” Basically, it was less than a quarter. But let us look at the entire scene that Mark paints for us today.
In the middle of teaching his disciples, something catches Jesus’ eye. As he teaches he notices the scribes. The scribes love to be greeted in public as dignitaries. They compete for places of honor at the synagogues and at banquets. And they cheat widows even as they recite lengthy prayers at the temple. Juxtaposed to the scribes is someone else that catches Jesus’ eye. He is watching people dropping in money at the temple treasury boxes. And among them is a widow who comes to the temple. How can he tell? She is probably dressed in the color of mourning, black. She is unaccompanied, maybe has a small child in tow. We are not quite sure why the widow dropped in everything. But Mark says, “She has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” Literally, Mark says that the widow gave her whole life. There might be a number of reasons. First, maybe someone cheated her or threatened her that if she did not give more money God would not bless her. Second, maybe she wanted to give her whole life to God. Maybe she knows the story of the widow of Zarephath…and maybe, just maybe, God will bless her abundantly. However, what is so reprehensible is that the religious leaders expect the widows to contribute to the temple treasury as they struggle to feed their families.
Poverty is a women’s issue. And God is concerned about this issue too. When religious leaders devour the houses of widows they deserve a severe condemnation. Now, we may not devour the houses or incomes of widows, but we Christians ought to examine our consciences about homelessness, poverty, food stamps, hunger…the list is endless. Theses issues have many faces. Do not think that we can look at someone and judge her or him as well off or poor. In Du Page County, “the annual income needed by a one-parent family with a preschooler and school-age child to maintain self-sufficiency in 2011 was $65,321.”
As Jesus observes people at the temple, so today Jesus observes us today and everyday. As our great high priest, he brings us salvation. And this salvation needs to be seen in our good works, especially for those in caught in the vicious cycle of poverty.
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.
Servant of God
Oblate of St. Procopius Abbey
Pray for us!