On Tuesday evening, I led the evening reflection as part of the Holy Week series of services. I chose to tell a story, based on the the accounts of the widow's mite and the anointing of Jesus as told in the gospel of Mark. So here, for anyone who's interested, is the script (which I broadly followed!)
I wonder what image comes to mind when you hear my story, the nameless, poor widow in the Temple? Probably you imagine me as advanced in years, clad in dark clothes, maybe even leaning on a wooden stick for support as I shuffle through the Court of Women to drop my two tiny coins into the offering before I leave, penniless to go home to, well who knows what? Maybe you are right. And maybe you are wrong.
Anna was my heroine when I was growing up… widowed at a young age, with no sons to care for her, she went daily to the Temple to pray. A young widow, beautiful inside and out, she always had time for us children. A shared grin when some of us, bored by the sobriety, dared to run around mimicking the teachers. A gentle word of encouragement to shy ones, huddled close to their mothers, over-awed by the grandeur of this place.
She lived to a ripe old age, did Anna, passing on her wisdom to a new generation of younger widows like me. I can recall her face when she told me about the young couple from the north who arrived with their new-born son, and she, prophet that she surely was, had recognised in him something very special.
A still miss her, old Anna, and it’s been nearly thirty years now. Now I am one of the old, childless widows who is to be found here day by day, smiling at the mischief of bored children, reassuring anxious first time parents, and then slipping away, unnoticed at the end of the day.
Of course I wish my husband had lived. But it wasn’t to be. I don’t have much, but what I do have, my time, my love, my friendship, I give to the service of Yahweh, the God who saves, the God who heals, the God who provides. Today I opened my purse and all I have left is a couple of copper coins… I can choose: buy flour to make bread or drop them in the Temple offering. I smile to myself. There is no choice to be made. I do the only thing I can do… There, now, it’s done, I can slip away, with a light heart and an almost imperceptible spring in my step. I’ve gladly given away all I have left, and no-one but Yahweh has seen…
He said the story of what I’d done would be told over and again, that I would be remembered. Who knows? I mean, no-one is sure who I was, except that I might have been called Mary, and I might have been a ‘sinful woman’, and I might have shared a home with my siblings.
When I was a girl, we would go sometimes to the Temple, an enormous place full of colour and noise. People from all over the world would come to see this wonder. For us, this was the house of Yahweh, the most holy place on earth, and to be honest, it scared me. It was so easy to get lost, and there were fierce looking officials everywhere. I remember a time when I got separated from my parents, and stood sobbing in the corner of the Court of Women. Through my tears, I could see people dropping money into the different offerings. Some gave a lot, some a little. No-one seemed to notice me, a small weeping girl in the corner. Then I heard a gentle voice, and looked up. It was one of the widow women who seemed to live here. She dried my tears, took me by the hand and, together we found my parents. I’ve never forgotten her kindness, even after all these years. I’ll make sure her story is never forgotten!
Strange things have been happening recently. A couple of days ago the northern rabbi, Jesus and his followers held some kind of procession into Jerusalem, attracting a huge crowd. Apparently, he created uproar in the Temple, scattering coins everywhere and freeing all the livestock. I wish I could have seen it – all those religious officials scowling and trying to stay calm in the chaos!
Yet, the next day, it seems, he was back there, as if nothing had happened, teaching his followers and watching what was going on. My widow friend tells me she saw him; said he smiled at her knowingly as she dropped her coins in the offering. That’s so like her – quietly watching what’s going on and, equally quietly, giving away everything she had to live on.
When I realised he was coming to dinner at Simon’s house, I realised I just had to be there… a Pharisee with leprosy is almost as much an outsider as me, I felt sure I wouldn’t be turned away.
Well, you know the rest of the story, of course, it did get passed on, even if it got a bit muddled along the way.
I don’t know what came over me, I just knew what I had to do. I broke the seal on the alabaster jar of expensive perfume and joyfully poured it out… his head, his feet, the memories are blurred, but I just recall the exhilaration I felt as the sweet, heady smell filled the room. Finally, finally, I understood what it meant to live like the Temple widows. Finally, even I could pour out my love and devotion, freed from the shackles of security and respectability. My all, poured out for the one who came in the name of the Lord, the one whose words transformed my life. I couldn’t wait to tell my friend the next time we were at the Temple…
A tale of two women.
Two women on the margins of society.
Did we ever really meet?
Is this story true?
You will never know.
But what we did, each in our own way, expressing total, utter commitment to Yahweh… maybe that is a story you will remember, a story you, too, will tell others, a story whose truth endures.