This morning we heard stories of three widows. First, our Old Testament reading offers us a snippet from the Book of Ruth, and our Gospel tells of the faithfulness of the poor widow who gives two coins to the temple coffers. Whenever women become the focus of an ancient text, it is good to pay attention. Because, as I have said in the past, in ancient times women were basically non-people, for their actions to be noted and made a point of focus means what they have done is significant.
In this morning’s Old Testament reading, we get the Reader’s Digest version of the end of the Ruth story. Leading up to the reading, Naomi has lost her husband and two sons, leaving her and her two daughters-in-law with no appreciable means of support. Out of love for her daughters-in-law, Naomi encourages them to return to their families hoping they will be taken care of. Ophar accepts Naomi’s offer and returns to her Moabite family. Ruth, however, chooses to stay with Naomi and to leave with her to Naomi’s native land of Israel hoping Naomi’s kinsman, Boaz, will accept both of them into his household. Neither knew what the outcome of this journey would be. Boaz was under no obligation to take Naomi in, let alone Ruth the Moabite. And so what we have here is not just a story of a journey but a story of two women placing their lives in the hands of God.
This same concept repeats itself in this morning’s gospel when Jesus brings attention to the widow placing the two coins in the temple coffer. In this story we know she is a widow, that she is poor, that she has no legitimate means with which to support herself. Most likely she had no idea where her next two coins would come from. As I read this story, I wonder if this woman is in the same situation as the widow Elijah requests a meal from. In that story, the woman is collecting fire wood to prepare what she is assuming will be the last meal for she and her son living in the midst of famine. It was her plan to use the last of her flour and oil to make loaves of bread and then await starvation when Elijah comes along and requests she take care of the traveler. This she does for the same reason our widow places her coins in the coffer, out of faithfulness to God. I suspect the widow in today’s gospel placed the coins in the coffer expecting the worse while holding onto that last shred of trust that God would somehow prevail.
We do not know what the ending to the widow of today’s gospel is, but we do know the ending to the story of Naomi and Ruth. In their case, Boaz does accept them into his care and eventually marries Ruth. Then a few generations later, God rewards Ruth’s trust and loyalty as her great grandson, David, is made the first King of Israel.
As I reflected on these two stories, I realized that the Bible is filled with other stories of people who have placed their trust in God despite the direst of circumstances. The prophet Ezekiel encourages the people of Israel to hang in there despite Babylonian captivity because he knows, through the vision of the Valley of Dry Bones, Israel will rise again. St. Paul, in his second letter to Timothy, demonstrates a trust in God that is only second to Christ’s. From his prison cell, as he awaits execution, Paul laments those who have given up and left the church while at the same time poetically proclaims his trust in the resurrection with the words:
As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
It seems we live in fickle times. Trust in anything or anyone seems to be fleeting and shallow at best. Long term commitment feels all but lost. Years ago, many were willing to do without during the decade long depression and then during World War II trusting that through our communal sacrifice better times were ahead for us as individuals and for us as a country. Today the solutions that do not bring about the desired results in short periods of time are quickly abandoned. Today, we are hard pressed to find heroes, such as Ruth, the widow with the two coins or even St. Paul, who are willing to put their trust in things they can not see just over the horizon and trust in a God whose time-table tends to be so much longer than human patience can often allow.
But trusting in God, even in the darkest and hardest of moments, is the greater part of our journeys with God. In the Book of Ruth, Ruth chooses to journey with Naomi not knowing if the God of Israel will provide for either of them. The widow places her two coins in the temple coffer possibly not knowing where her next meal will come from, but trusting God will provide for her. And St. Paul, remained faithful to Christ even when facing death, because he trusted the victor’s crown awaited for him just on the other side of death.
In recent years, faith has become more about rationally knowing truth, than trusting God. The early church had little interest in the rational knowledge of God as it was more concerned with trusting its experiences of the risen Christ. Every week we renew our trust in God as we recite together either the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed. However, it may not feel this way as we begin each section with the words “I believe.” The creeds were never intended to be statements of facts; instead they were intended to be statements of the heart. Modern day, American theologian, Marcus Borg states that the phrase “I believe” is a translation of the term “credo” which roughly translated means “I give my trust to.” As a community of faith, each week we place our trust in God the Father. We place our trust in God the Son and we place our trust in God the Holy Spirit. And then through our trust in the Holy Trinity, we place our trust in the one holy, catholic and apostolic church as we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
When we move our relationship with God from rational knowledge to trusting from the heart, our religious imagination is able to take flight.We become able to trust in where the grace of God can take us as we break through the barriers of our limited expectations.
It was her trust in God that allowed Ruth to forego the safety of her family in order to journey with Naomi to the land of Israel and into the care of Boaz. It was her trust in God over the limitations of her reality that allowed the widow to drop her last coins in the temple coffers. And it was Paul’s trust in the Resurrection that allowed him to remain focused on receiving the victor’s crown over life itself.
Every day, in many ways, we are bombarded with messages that tell us life can be so much better, so much easier without the church, and at times even without faith itself. And there is so much out there that pushes us to question if our trust in God and the church is worthwhile. If we look at our faith in the context of the short-term. . the answer to these questions is no. . Our faith is a waste of time. But as the stories of Ruth, the widow and the coins and the life of Saint Paul tell us, when we look at our faith journeys in the context of the long term, then we can appreciate the value of our faith. Because, as St. Paul concludes. . . .it is the power of God working within us that accomplishes more than we can ask or even imagine.