My number one goal over the course of my sabbatical this summer was to write a first draft of my Doctor of Ministry thesis for the Advanced Degree Program at the School of Theology at the University of the South. Having successfully completed that goal, I began to look back on the other accomplishments of my time away. I gained 10 pounds, which probably wasn’t good, but it was the direct result of good times with family and friends, so that’s OK. I learned I need to find a hobby, and I’m working on becoming a disc golfer. Tops on the list of “other accomplishments” however, is my return to the Daily Office. It still feels weird to read the assumed to be done in community offices of the Church alone at my desk, but I’m finding a newfound comfort in it, and I’m glad to be reminded of those great phrases that pervaded my mind during seminary.
This morning, as I continue to struggle over which widow I’m going to preach about on Sunday, I was struck by the penultimate versicle and response in the Rite II Suffrages A.
V. Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten;
R. Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
Both the Widow at Zerephath and the widow who gave her last seem to be at a point where their hope has been taken away. What is interesting, however, is that what is used as a call and response prayer is actually a promise in its original context of Psalm 9. The most recent edition of the New International Version (2011) makes this clear in their translation of Psalm 9.18, “But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish.”
If this is true, and tend to think that it is, then these stories of the two widows are less stories of their willingness to give sacrificially and more stories of their ongoing hope in God’s willingness to never forget them. The young Widow at Zerephath was almost certainly not a Jew, and yet she had faith in the provision promised by some strange prophet of a foreign god. The Widow who gave her last, despite being manipulated by a corrupt system, gave those last two copper coins away, she literally gave her whole life away, confident that the Lord would not forget her in her poverty.
In the end, then, these are both stories of God’s abundant grace for those deemed outside the realm of God’s grace. One was an ethnic outsider, the other a cultural one, but both were faithful in light of God’s promise to care for them. We who are thought to be on the inside, who profess to be followers of the Way of Jesus, are invited to a) have the same sort of faith and b) join with God in sustaining the poor no matter their circumstances. That’s why we pray those words with regularity, “Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten; nor the hope of the poor be taken away” or “don’t let me forget the needs of others, O God; don’t let me be complicit in a system that crushes their very hope.”