Thursday, December 31, 2009

What is “The Widow’s Might?”

Don't you love spellcheck? Sometimes it can be so prophetic!

Ann’s mom and dad were married for over 55 years. Loving the Lord, they’ve been active in missions: teaching, hospitality, and in church administration. At dad’s memorial, someone wondered, “What does it mean, now that she’s a widow?” in reference to Ann’s mom. I'm not sure what they meant, but it got me thinking.

In America, we tend to institutionalize births and deaths. I grew up seeing neither. But when I went to Haiti, I found myself witnessing both, almost daily. Amidst several fishing and farm villages in the rural south, the mission built a school, church, and the only medical clinic nearby. This allowed me to occasionally assist midwives and doctors. Births and deaths happened in people's homes.

Homes being huts, much of village life took place outside in common areas. Getting to know many widows and widowers, I was able to experience the great blessing they are to families. Newborns and the elderly each remind us how precious and frail life is. I remember writing my widowed grandmother, that I was coming home in a year, and that she’d better get used to having me around. Sure, I knew my grandmother. But by Haitian standards, I was one neglectful grandson.

Reading about God’s concern for widows will cause those with a healthy reverence for Him, to make some adjustments. God has much to say concerning widows. Nations, families and peoples are blessed or cursed, depending upon how their widows fare. From Moses to Timothy, God never wavers in His concern for them.

“In you (a city) they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the alien and mistreated the fatherless and the widow.”
Ezekiel 22:7

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
James 1:27

Vulnerable widows are quick to be overlooked. But God warns us not to let this happen. He spoke through His prophets, offering blessing upon those who mindfully cared for them:

“If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever.”
Jeremiah 7:5-7

Moses insisted that widows and other potentially oppressed people, be cared for:

“When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this.”
Deuteronomy 24:19-22

“. . . so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”
Deuteronomy 14:29

Moses likewise instructs towns to provide, so that widows “living among you,” can participate in the Feast of Tabernacles. Widows are to be included in community life, sharing in God’s celebrations. (Chapter 16) God warns that neglecting the widow, was oppression to her. Israel was to remember the slavery that He had brought them out of:

"Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this."
Deuteronomy 24:17-18

When infant Jesus was dedicated at the Temple, Anna announced him; “a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” (Luke 2:37). God chose Anna, both widow and prophetess, to proclaim the coming of Israel’s redeemer. What an honor God bestowed upon her!

In a parable, Jesus says, “listen to the words of the “unjust judge.” Admitting he doesn’t fear God, this “judge” helps one particular widow because her persistence exhausts him. (Luke 18:3-6) Though the judge helps, Jesus calls him “unjust.” Heartless social solutions are not God’s. Had this woman not vigorously and repeatedly petitioned, she’d have gotten no help from the system. This is not the support God intends.

One day Jesus passes a grief stricken widow. She’s following in her son’s funeral procession. This son was her only support. Jesus raises him from the dead. (Luke 7:12-15). It is interesting that the boy was dead, but that “Jesus’ heart went out to her.” He raised the boy up, to care for his widowed mother.

Whenever people bring up “the widow’s mite,” I want to pull out my little bottle of white out. The conversation, both in scripture, and the room, turns to money. Right after Jesus mentions how the widow’s giving of two copper coins, was in fact more valuable to God than the riches of the wealthy donors, His disciples begin praising the expensively ornate Temple.

Today this story is read, and people say things like, “Yeah, God knows I can only give a little. But He will make it stretch.” Or “God sees the heart of the giver, and so knows who is and isn't giving till it hurts.” Jesus is talking about widows! Not you!

Then thanks to man-inserted chapter headings and numbers, whether reading Luke or Mark, (in most translations), our eyes are bold-print-diverted away from widows. If you white out that man-made chapter heading, starting a few verses up, you’ll read:

"Beware of the teachers of the law. . . They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely."

Luke 20:46, 47

Jesus then points to the widow with her two mites. He’s explaining her devotion’s worth to God. Yet no sooner does He mention how she, “put in all that she had,” there appears yet another man-added heading. Mine reads, “Signs of the End of the Age.” Pause next time, and consider what Jesus is saying to those who oppress widows, and of the widow before Him. He’s not after our money!

Jesus’ warnings to care for widows, is not a new teaching. God had His prophet Zechariah proclaim:

"Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other."
Zechariah 7:10

In Acts 6:1-5; the earliest church history, the apostles hear complaints that certain widows were being “overlooked.” They propose that the church “choose seven men, full of wisdom and the Spirit of God” (not just anyone willing), to oversee the caring of these widows:

“They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.”
Acts 6:1-5

All seven names here are Greek. Imagine the complaints such a program would get today? "Where's the diversity? Why are they all Greek, Jewish, and men?" But "this proposal pleased the whole group.” These women were most secure apparently, when these seven Spirit filled men, took charge of their situation. The church didn’t consider Rome's opinion before acting.

Ann and I had an abandoned infant twice snatched from our care. We were foreigners, and “needed more paperwork.” We pleaded with the authorities to let us continue caring for the baby, who’d thrived with us for weeks. They instead put our baby in an orphanage with 114 other infants. The five harried orphanage staff workers would strap the babies in at 5:00pm and, shift over, return to their homes till morning. The next day they’d return to their “jobs.” And knowing this, these “officials” would look us straight in the eye, and tell us they were taking the baby, “for its own good.”

I remember thinking, ‘Are they serious? What utter morons! How blind and how foolish!’ And in my ignorance, I said to Ann, “This would never happen in America.” But coming back, we see this kind of absurdity all the time. People get used to the insanity. But God will never get used to our putting political correctness above the needs of the oppressed. The help these widows wanted, were seven godly men, full of the Holy Spirit. They were Grecian Jews; the ones who cared the most. Get over it!

Sometimes a just cause seen, comes out as a complaint because those who are feeling the burden, aren’t seemingly in position to meet that need. But here, the apostles listened, and wisely gave authority over to those who saw the need. Take note complainers in church. God may be calling you to do something.

A newly widowed woman’s support system has shaken. On top of her grief, the widow may wonder, “what now?” God answers this question for us.

For a fuller look, go to 1 Timothy 5:4-16. Basically, children or grandchildren should be looking after their widowed mothers and grandmothers. Women with widows in their families should see that they are cared for. Widows without such help are exhorted to pray day and night. The church is to help those widows who meet the requirements. (See 1 Timothy 5).

Here is an interesting verse one usually hears, concerning deadbeats. I've yet to hear it given proper context. The "relatives," Paul is talking about, in context, are widows:

“If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
1 Timothy 5:8

In verse 16, when the apostle says to the women that they need to make sure that widows in their families are being cared for, it doesn’t mean that the men aren’t to help out. It just probably means that believing women are going to be more naturally mindful of such things. I know! Right? “Tom, what a sexist thing to say!”

Stop changing the subject! God has oodles of time to work on me. Your widows need honoring today!