1 Kings 17:8-16 [17-24], Galatians 1:11-24, Luke 7:11-17
The Widow of Zarephath, preached by The Rev. Peter Courtney
I kind of knew what a MITE was when I was a little kid. I knew it was something small. I didn’t know about dust mites, or dog mites and other kinds of bugs. I did know that the Widow’s Mite was a whole lot to the widow woman even though it didn’t seem to amount to much according to the movers and shakers.
As children we received MITE boxes on the first Sunday in Lent. We little people didn’t have much to begin with. We were expected to do extra stuff around the house for a penny or two and then offer it to God in these little blue boxes with a cross on the top and pictures of multi-cultural children around the bottom. These pictures inspired us to know that all of the money went to mission work. We understood that the mites we put in our boxes were gathered as a great rolling stream and amounted to something in the end, like airplanes for the Bishop of Alaska. The image of these little offerings of little people making a difference down the line has stuck with me.
When we look at the widow of Zarephath something happens inside of us that may go unnoticed. We compare out. We look at ourselves and we do not see a widow, at least not like her.
If we are a widow we say to ourselves: “I am not reduced to gathering a few sticks to do some baking of a miserable pile of meal out of which I will make a few biscuits and then lie down and die.” That is not us. We look at ourselves and while we may feel sorry for ourselves because we are not rich and powerful like some people, we are not poor like that pathetic soul in Zaraphath.
Our comparing out is is necessary. We have to distance ourselves from the widow of Zarephath and the widow of Nain lest they make some kind of claim on us. We don’t want to be compared to someone who is willing to give all to God, because many of us are not willing to give very much, never mind all. In a word, these selfless poor people make us look, well, cheap.
Jesus does not call us to compare ourselves to one who gives all. Neither does the God who ruled Sidon where Zarephath lies. God expects us to work at becoming like these examples of selfless giving. This kind of giving expects nothing in return, not even a receipt or tax deduction or thank you letter or membership in a named giving society.
I know about this stuff in myself. I used to give money to my college until I retired. Then I stopped. This year is my 45th reunion year so I sent a check for a change. I gave enough to warrant a letter signed by the President of the College. Now let me tell you the absolute truth. I ran my finger over the signature to see if a real person had signed it instead of a machine. I know that many of these letters are signed by machines. Yes indeed, there was an indentation in the paper which a ball point pen would leave! Maybe they have a heavy handed machine designed to fool people like me.
When I read the story of the Widow of Zarephath, I could compare myself out. I could fairly say to myself: “I am a generous man, I give away a lot of money.” I would be right. I am generous. I also run my finger over signatures to see how grateful the recipients are! This means I am not as generous as I would like to think I am. I give out of my wealth. I am both richer and poorer than I think. I am richer because I am lucky and comfortable. I am poorer because I am counting the cost in a cheesy way even if I confess it to you in this lighthearted and humorous way.
God cares about generous hearts. God only wants 10% of our money. That is the easy part! The hard part is that God wants 100% of our hearts. God knows she will only get a portion.
Our letter from God has been signed with God’s own hand. If we ran our finger over God’s signature it would smear the blood of Jesus. It really would. When we do the kind of mental figuring I have described in myself we cheapen the blood of Christ. I am ashamed of myself. The Good News is that God will help me to do better than this.