The Hope of Widows

Third Sunday after Pentecost
Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 17:8-24
Galatians 1:11-24
Luke 7:11-17

Together this week’s lectionary readings bespeak a current that flows throughout the biblical narrative. These are vibrant stories and exaltations, full to the brim with joy and gladness at the beauty of a life restored. The world of the bible, like our own, is a world fraught with difficulty and marred by suffering and sadness. But, like seedlings which break through concrete, the power of resurrection—of life itself—breaks forth and beats the odds. These are stories of hope amidst hardship, light in the deepest shadows; they bear witness to the power of God which, in the end, holds sway even over Death itself.

Recently a mentor of mine put it something like this: the power of God—that is, resurrection and the reversal of death—call upon the Christian to hope that God will not leave any loose ends. This is not an easy hope; indeed, it is a costly one. We see this particularly in the resurrection narratives in 1 Kings 17:8-16 (17-24) and Luke 7:11-17. Though both stories end with the joy and triumph of resurrection, they begin in hardship and sadness. Elijah finds the widow of Zarephath in dire straits: in the midst of a drought, her food supplies are nearly exhausted. To make matters worse, her son becomes deathly ill. Similarly, Jesus and his disciples find a widow in the village of Nain. Her only son, now a grown man, has died; as a widow, she is without help to make ends meet. Together, these widows are confronted by pain and the promise of more: for, on their own, they cannot hope to subsist in the harsh circumstances that beset them.

Such details are not included merely to make the miracles at the end of these tales seem all the more grand. Instead, I believe we are given the small backstory of these characters, complete with their pain and suffering, because, in many ways, we are these characters. That said, I must be clear: I write from a place of privilege. I will not soon be faced with the very real possibility that I will starve to death. Many readers of this post will not bear this burden either. Yet we share something with these women and this binds us together with every human that ever lived: we are frail, we can suffer, and we are all well-acquainted with pain and loss.

Some of us have lost parents. Others have lost children, while still others have lost spouses, brothers, sisters, or friends. Like the widows of these two stories, we know what it is to lose. We have felt the pain and we know the cost, for this is the world as we know it: all who are born will one day die, and all that we love may be carried away. Suffering is our great burden, and it is also our bond. Sometimes we are like the widow of Nain, who, when faced with the death of her son, can only weep. Other times, we are like the widow of Zarephath: we see our loved one in pain, suffering needlessly, and we demand a divine account. In both cases, whether we weep quietly or call upon God to make good on God’s promises, we betray a living hope that sickness, suffering, and death will not have the final word.

The story of Scripture begs us to hold out hope that God will not leave any loose ends: that those who are sick may be healed and that those who have died will one day live again. The widows of Zarephath and Nain are images of this courageous faith. Let us all join them, and all those who bear witness, in their confession and in their hope of resurrection:

“Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.”

“A great prophet has risen among us! God has looked favorably on his people!”

“You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy!”

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