The Old Testament and Gospel readings today revolve around widows, particularly the contrast between these widows and people who are rich and powerful (1 Kings 17:8-16 and Mark 12:38-44). In 1 Kings, we read about Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. Right before our reading for today, Elijah had announced the Lord Yahweh’s judgment against Israel for its unfaithfulness to Him. Israel had rejected Yahweh as their God; so, as judgement for this act, there would be no rain in Israel, there would be a drought proclaimed by Elijah, whose name means “My God is Yahweh.”
Then the Lord – Yahweh – sends Elijah to the widow of Zarephath, and the Lord tells Elijah that she will feed him.
But, how is the widow going to do this? When Elijah asks her for bread, she explains that she has just a handful of flour and a little oil that she was going to make into a little cake. This was going to be her and her son’s last meal. The drought affected them as well, and they were nearly out of food.
But, Elijah tells her “do not fear,” and instructs her to make him a little cake first and then make her and her son a cake. Then, he gives her a promise from God. He says, “For thus says the LORD [Yahweh] the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD [Yahweh] sends rain upon the earth.’”
Elijah gives her Yahweh’s – the Lord’s – promise that He would provide for her. Yahweh is her God who is caring for her, just as He is Elijah’s God. That little bit of flour and little bit of oil would not run out until the rains come back and the crops grow and fruit again so that food in the land is again plentiful. Until that time, though, Yahweh will sustain the widow and her son. The Lord will sustain her until the coming day of restoration arrives. So, the widow did as Elijah asked and trusted in the promise of the Lord, Yahweh, that there was a better day coming, a day of restoration.
Fast forward about 2,800 years and we come to the time of Jesus the Christ, the Savior, Yahweh in the flesh. Again, we see a contrast between a widow and the unfaithful people of Israel. Jesus contrasts the scribes and the rich with the widow. The scribes are part of the upper crust of society; they are prominent, wealthy, and considered important. They are students of the Law. They have the best seats in the synagogues (which were in the front, which may surprise us). They also took the places of honor at feasts. They wore their robes in the marketplaces in order to be greeted by everyone who recognized their importance. They made long prayers for a pretense, meaning they spoke so that others would hear how “holy” they were. They devoured widows’ houses through their shrewdness.
So, there’s a contrast between the humble widow and the scribes who puffed themselves up. But, there’s also an implicit contrast here between the scribes and Elijah. Elijah was an authentic prophet, sent by Yahweh to His people. But, he was chased throughout the wilderness and fed by angels and ravens. He probably looked like a mess – dirty, an unkept beard, tired, weary-eyed. His appearance was probably a long way from the scribes in Jesus’ day with their flowing, elegant robes. And unlike the scribes, Elijah definitely wasn’t popular, since He truly spoke the Word of the Lord.
Also, with Elijah, rather than devouring the house of the widow of Zarephath, he blesses her by bringing her Yahweh’s Word and blessing. And later, Elijah will raise the widow’s son from the dead. Again, another contrast between the scribes and Elijah: Elijah who brings the Word of the Lord as a blessing, and the scribes who try to use their positions for their own benefit. In fact, Elijah prefigures what Christ was coming to do in blessing people and raising the dead.
And there is also a further contrast between the scribes and the widow. Jesus observes people putting money into the offering box at the treasury of the temple in Jerusalem. The outer court of the temple where the treasury was had thirteen offering boxes, shaped like trumpets. Nine offering boxes were for people to put in money to pay what they legally owed, such as for the temple tax and various sin offerings. The other four boxes were for voluntary offerings.
So, Jesus observes many rich people putting in large sums of money into the trumpet-shaped offering boxes. Recall that in Matthew 6:2, Jesus told his disciples, “… when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:2).
So, we get a sense of people “trumpeting” about how much money they are contributing. Jesus sees rich people putting in large sums of money, and “trumpeting” it and making it a big deal. They are like the scribes who want everyone to see what they are doing so that they will receive praise from people.
But then Jesus sees a “poor widow… put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.” And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” The rich people wanted praise from men, but this widow in her poverty received praise from God.
Now, this widow that Jesus sees sounds like the widow of Zarephath that Elijah met. That widow also gave Elijah everything she had, all she had to live on. She trusted in Yahweh’s Word, given through Elijah, that He would sustain her until the better day of restoration comes. And now in the Gospel of Mark we see another widow who has put in everything she had, all she had to live on in trust in Yahweh’s Word, that He will sustain her until the better day of restoration comes.
What is this better day of restoration? Well, as the book of Hebrews points out, the day is coming when Christ “will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:24-28).
Christ is coming again; this is the coming day of restoration – a final, complete restoration – a day better than we see here now in this life. But, he is not coming again to deal with sin, because he’s already done that. It’s been handled. He was “offered once to bear the sins of many.” The book of Hebrews connects Christ’s sacrifice on the cross with the sacrifice that the High Priest offered once a year in the temple in Jerusalem.
The temple and its most holy place where the glory of the Lord dwelt was a copy of the true thing. It represented heaven on earth. Once a year, on Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – the High Priest would enter into the most holy place of the temple, into the presence of the Lord, with the blood of a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the people.
But, when Christ came, he entered, not into these holy places made with hands, but into heaven itself, into the very presence of the Father, to offer up his own blood on our behalf to atone for our sins. Christ is both the High Priest and the sacrifice. He offered up himself once for all people to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
Christ put in everything he had into the offering box. Christ’s sacrifice atoned for the sins of all people by making the payment for us. The sins of the people who lived before him, the people who lived during his time, and the people who came after him have been forgiven through this payment. Christ died for the sin of Adam and Eve, he died for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Elijah, he died for Peter, Paul, John Mark, he died for you. He did it once, and this one sacrifice was all sufficient to atone for your sins, because Christ put in everything he had, he put in his own body and blood. This is the offering that we are to sound a trumpet for, to proclaim what Christ has offered up for us; all glory be to God on High and on earth peace, goodwill toward men. For Christ has made peace between us and God through his holy offering of himself.
So, you live in the wake of this sacrifice and in the light of God’s forgiveness due to it. Your sins are paid for and forgiven. And so Christ is coming again, not to deal with sin – because he’s already done that – but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. He’s coming for you.
So, the better day of restoration that is coming is coming with Christ. In the midst of your own uncertainty in life where idols of people, money, power, and pleasure all fail you, you have this sure promise.
And what is more, you have the promise of God that He will sustain you in this life until Christ returns, despite all the uncertainty and fear in this life. Just as He sustained the widow of Zarephath until the rains came, and just like he sustained the widow in Mark despite her poverty, so too will he sustain you until Christ returns. He is the real deal, the one person who will not fail or disappoint you, because he is perfect and he has already shown his love for you by dying for you.
Even here and now the Lord is dwelling with you, in the midst of His Church. He provides for you and gives you His Word. He has baptized you into His forgiveness and into the family of Christ. He feeds you with the body and blood of the sacrifice. He sustains you in faith and He promises that His means of grace will not run out, that He is ever giving, ever loving, ever forgiving. He has taken those whose idols have proven themselves to be dead and helpless and made them a part of His bride, the Church. He has become a Father to the fatherless and a husband to the widows. Yahweh, our Lord God, has made all of us His own, due to the sacrifice of our great High Priest Jesus Christ who put in everything he had. Amen.
(Image: “The Bible panorama, or The Holy Scriptures in picture and story,” 1891 (1890s); Foster, William A.; By Internet Archive Book Images – https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14598328380/Source book page: https://archive.org/stream/biblepanoramaorh00fost/biblepanoramaorh00fost#page/n274/mode/1up, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42113239 )