This is an amazing day for me! Two of the three Sunday readings are about women! Stories of women in the Scripture are few and far between. Today there are two about which I can speak.
In the Gospel story, Jesus tells about a poor widow who put two small coins in the treasury. Because she is poor, it is a marvelously generous gift; but few, if any, actually witness it. So Jesus calls attention to it and delivers his message. He tells the disciples that many rich people put money in the treasury and are recognized and praised for doing so. I still remember that in the Christmas play The Bells of Saint Mary's, the owner of the building next to the church, Mr. Bogatis, begins to count out the money he is putting in the church collection basket to let the congregation know it is a substantial amount. This happened in the time of Jesus. But this poor widow is giving what is for her a substantial gift without any notice from anyone in the vicinity. How do we give our money? Do we give it as a Mr. Bogatis or as the widow in the Gospel story?
Thinking of this widow and a possible reason for her generosity. I imagine this: When she was a little girl she heard the Scripture stories of how people gave glory to God. She listened to these stories because her parents had the willingness and patience to tell them to her over and over again. Her parents deserve praise for teaching their daughter the important lessons of their Hebrew faith. She saw her family, despite their lack of wealth, regularly putting coins in the treasury as a response to the promises God made to the Hebrew nation over the centuries. She believed in these promises her whole life, and continued to give what she could – even in her old age and widowhood.
In the first reading the prophet Elijah approaches a woman gathering sticks of wood, and asks her for a drink of water and a piece of bread. She replied that she had just enough flour for a small bread and a bit of little oil. He asked her to make him one last bread. She must have thought long and hard about his request since she herself would then be without food. But she knew from Scripture stories that when God does send prophets into people's lives amazing things can happen. Acting upon this faith, the woman does what Elijah asks and the promise of God is fulfilled: her jar of flour and jug of oil would never again be empty! God's message hit home. The woman believed in God's promises she had heard as a child and then she acted upon her belief.
I always name my homilies because it helps me remember them. The name of this one is Promises, Promises, Promises! A song kept repeating itself in my mind this week, John Denver's Poems, Prayers & Promises. I kept hearing the words to this song because I too have heard stories of hope, salvation, resurrection and promises my God has made to me. I think of them often throughout each day. Then I pray over what these stories mean to me. I wonder what the promises of God hold in the future for me and my family. I wonder what promises of God will affect us here in this community of Jesus Our Shepherd.
I do not know what lies ahead but I do know God has promised us everlasting life and a love beyond our human understanding. I am comforted by that. I feel secure in God's loving embrace.
God continues today to guarantee the promises made centuries ago. His promise can be heard in ways beyond the Scriptures. The promise can be heard in music, in poetry and in the thoughtful words someone speaks to us. Listen carefully and you can hear the promise today!