God Loves and Sustains Women-As for the world….Reflections of a Roman Catholic Woman Priest Sunday November 7, 2021
The Scriptures for today, the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, are some of my favorite holy readings clearly proclaiming God’s love for women, and for children. In the Hebrew Scriptures, I Kings 17:10-16 we hear about the widow at Zarephath and the prophet Elijah. The context of the story is the prophet Elijah’s utter dependence upon God for his existence and the obedient faith of both Elijah and the woman. In the midst of a complete and devastating drought and famine in the area Elijah was sent to a widow to sustain him, in turn, he called upon God to sustain the woman and her son. Elijah met the widowed woman as she gathered kindling wood for a fire. He asked her for a cup of water and a piece of bread. She let him know that she had only a handful of flour left and that after she cooks it and she and her son ate it they would die. Elijah continued to ask for the bread but told her that she would have enough left for her and her son and that the flour and oil jars would remain filled. She and her child would not die. Indeed, that is exactly what happened. The woman made him his bread and she was sustained with flour and oil, and also had the assistance of Elijah who lived with her for a time. The obedient faith of the prophet and the widow yielded what they needed to survive.
Usually this reading is used to underline our dependence on God and the need to be faithful and obedient to God as Elijah was. Indeed that is a point in the story. But let us look at this widow. In ancient Israel widows often had no means to sustain their lives. They did not go out and work and if there were no adult males in their lives to support them they could easily die. Yet God provided for this woman and her son through Elijah who also needed the woman’s assistance to survive as a prophet. Clearly God loved and cared about this woman and her child.
It was built into the Law in Judaism that widows and children must be cared for. For Jews that faithfully followed the Torah, there was in fact an obligation to care for the widows and the children. It was not up to them whether or not they gave to assist the widows, it was obligatory. ( The Jewish Social Work Forum, 1990, Erich Levine, The Ethical-Ritual in Judaism: A Review of Sources on Torah Study and Social Action). The sum set aside was not large but if all gave it the widows and orphaned children of the group would be cared for. It was a job of the prophet to let the King and the faithful know clearly when they were not obeying the Law, not caring for the poor and widowed and orphaned and that God was not pleased with this. Hence the prophets were often killed. Elijah was one of the last prophets still alive under treacherous King Ahab and later under his son Ahaziah who was worse than his father.
This lovely example of God sustaining the widow and the prophet, or women and children as well as the prophets, emphasizes that God deeply cared for women and children, and the presence of the prophet assures us that God was displeased with behaviors that were about greed and profit and self aggrandizement when those in power and those who follow them do not care for the poor, women and children.
Additionally the Psalm of the day, Psalm 146:7-10 assures us that our God “secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry….raises up those who were bowed down, loves the just, protects strangers and the fatherless and the widow God sustains…” How wonderful is this news. This is Who our God is! Sadly it is not who people, including those who say they follow God’s ways, always are. The reading from the book of Hebrews tells us that Christ died to take away the sins of the people, and will bring salvation to those who eagerly await him. ( Heb 9:24-28). We minimize the meaning of “sin” and what Jesus the Christ did when we think of sin in narrow moralistic personal terms, like the salacious sins on the afternoon soap operas or movies or in the News. Sin is when nations and those in power and those who support those in power make no provision or totally inadequate provision to care for the weakest among us, for those who cannot earn equally and “take care of themselves” on par with others. Sin is in omission as well as commission and sin is when a whole half of the human race is treated as less than the other half. One of the greatest sins throughout history is the lesser treatment of women in every culture. From Ancient times, to Jesus’ times, to our time, we woefully and willingly sin against women and children and others not able to become economically and socially independent. This is in part because we do not think of “the other half”, we do not have a raised consciousness about poverty and who is poor and why. And in part because we, like the priests Jesus admonishes in the gospel, are full of self interest instead of genuine, caritas, interest in others who may “beg at our doors ” or silently bear their lots. And when their lots are not borne silently we are even angry that they may protest to let us know what is happening. I would say that Jesus called it well in the Gospel of the day.
In the Gospel today (Mark 12:38-44) Jesus strongly admonishes the scribes, the priests, who enjoy importance in the community but “devour the houses of widows”. Wow! Yes, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day stole from the poor and Jesus called them on it. And Jesus would say the same to church and other religious leaders of this day who parade about wanting attention and honor but do little to attend to the poorest among us. And Jesus would say the same to us as individuals who do not attend to the needs of our neighbors who are in need whether these neighbors are right down the street, or in other countries and cultures. Whether they be neighbors who cannot pay their water and electric bills, and school children who are hungry and thirsty, or neighbors who do not have a community well or source of water or enough food to eat. Whether we look globally or locally we can find those who not only ignore but do violence to the widows and orphans and the poorest among us. I love Jesus especially when he does not mince words, and this passage is one in which he is very clear about the violence done to the poor and women by even the religious authorities and those who claim to be religious. Can you hear what Jesus would say to those of us whose action and inaction hold women, who are the majority of the worlds poor,g in “their place”.
One has only to use a search engine or google the U.S. Census Bureau and poverty adding women, children, minorities of color and culture-African-American women, Latinas/os, Asian Pacific, Alaskan and Native American women, and the LGBTQ community and those with disabilities, to see that all of these groups are the poorest among us even in this land of plenty. In an article entitled The Basic Facts About Women in Poverty (2020) by Robin Bleiweiss, Alexandra Cawthorne Gaines and Dana Boesch, (https://www.americanprogress.org) we learn that globally and in the USA women are much more likely to live in deep and abject poverty than men, and women of color, Latina and or Alaskan and Native American women and African American women, and disabled women and Lesbian or LBGTQ women are more likely to live in poverty than men of their own groups and majority women and men. OXFAM points out that the majority of the world’s poor are women and that in no country in the world is there economic equality for men and women. (oxfam.org/en/why-majority-worlds-poor-are-women/). Women make only a portion of the dollar men make in the USA, for example ( Bleiweiss,Gaines and Boesch, 2020). Majority women make 82 cents on the dollar, Latina women make 54 cents on the dollar, Native American and Alaskan women make 57 cents on the dollar and Black women make 62 cents on the dollar. Additionally women with disabilities and LBGTQ women have much higher rates of poverty than their male counterparts. Reasons for this are related to the entrenched gender bias in the culture and in occupational segregation, low paying jobs, unpaid caretaking roles of women, homophobia, and lack of support for women in the workforce, among other things. Structural gender bias and structural racism and sexism depress wages and limit opportunities for women of all sorts. Yes, some of all groups break the glass ceiling and do very well in post-industrialized countries but the facts of women’s place in even the most progressive nations attests to the increased poverty of women over men. And globally in many places women and children are suffering most from the lack of basic needs like food and water and shelter. The Jesus who admonished the Scribes would have a lot to say about all of this, but how often do we hear preaching on it? Perhaps women are in a sense an invisible minority throughout the world and in religious structures that also may deny women the priesthood, as in our Roman Catholic church today.
And, finally, in the second part of the Gospel today (Mark 12: 41-43) we have Jesus praising the extremely poor widow who put all she had in the treasury. So often we take away that we should give until it hurts and not only from our abundance, and that is true and consistent with what Jesus asks of His Followers-to give it all. But, he is also lifting up a woman, a very poor woman and saying that she is in high honor as a part of the kingdom of heaven that he is bringing to us. Yes, we note with admiration that she gave it all away. And we can try to emulate that , whatever it takes from each and all of us, and from the church that seems to hold onto wealth very closely. But let us not miss that the heroine of the story for Christ is a poor woman. And so we can look to women, and to the poorest of women tor guidance as to how to live our lives as Christ followers and as decent human beings. I can remember as I grew up in a household headed by women and we were, by this world’s standards, poor. Yet there were riches there that are hard to find now. In my home and in my highly integrated poor and working class neighborhood and in my church, women were leaders and women were strong. Women showed us how to love and how to care for the least among us, and yes, women gave it all. And I know it now as well through my Good Shepherd Church community. Poor women are among those most generous and most giving of our group. Let us learn this day to do what Jesus did, and praise the women among us, including and especially those who have the least economically, who give it all away. Amen.
God Bless all women and all of you,
Love and Blessings to you all,
Pastor Judy Lee, RCWP,
Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community , Fort Myers, Florida
November 7, 2021