Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Let’s say you want to save for the future, to make sure that you will be provided for when you are no longer working, whether in the event of a planned retirement or for an unforeseen illness or accident. You currently have plenty of options before you that you could invest in: insurance policies, pensions, 401(k)s, the equity on your home, and different kinds of savings accounts, not to mention social security and Medicare. The idea is one or many of these options can help in the event of “a rainy day.”
During the time of Jesus, none of these options existed. For people, especially women, looking to invest in their future, most had only one choice: to have children, especially male children. I’ve heard people make quips like “be nice to your kids, because someday they will choose your nursing home!” In those days, your children WERE your nursing home, because there was no other option.
Imagine for a moment that you are the woman in this story. Though your husband has died and can no longer provide for you, you were fortunate enough to have had a son who survived to adulthood. After your husband’s death, it would have been his job to take you in and support you. You would have been safe living under his roof while he had the opportunity to earn a living. While you lived with him, he would have taken a wife and had children of his own, and you would have helped care for them. You might have had the satisfaction of seeing your son have a son of his own, and you would have died happy, knowing that he and your daughter-in-law would be provided for when the time came.
Now imagine you are instead standing next to the casket of your only son, knowing also that any chance at future security died with him. Your rainy day has arrived, and you are filled with grief for your son and fear for your future.
And just then, Jesus showed up on the scene.
We’ll get back to Jesus and the widow in just a moment, but first I want to tell you about something I heard while at the New Jersey Synod Assembly this weekend. During the Bishop’s report, we heard about how different organizations are responding to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. One pastor shared about how one particular shelter and soup kitchen in Union City was able to feed and house people because of their generator on the cold nights after the storm. They were nearly full when suddenly over 90 homeless people were dropped off by bus on their doorstep from another part of the city. These people had been removed from another shelter and were expected to be able to fend for themselves on a cold and snowy night in a city that was already lacking power and shelter. Someone had even given them the name, “the homeless homeless.”
The people at THIS shelter were appalled. And though they were already nearly full, they were able to squeeze over one hundred people in a heated dining hall that was built to seat seventy five.
The homeless people didn’t have equity or 401ks, but that night it wouldn’t have mattered even if they had. That night, everyone who was cold was given a warm place to stay. Everyone who was hungry was fed a hot meal. That night everyone was homeless, and everyone was provided for.
Jesus showed up on the scene that night, working through people who cared for those who are the most vulnerable. They gave shelter to those who had been cast aside by others. They had compassion for people who had no one to speak for them and nowhere to go.
When Jesus saw the widow’s grief, he had compassion for her. His heart went out to this woman who had lost everything, the complete opposite in every way to the centurion Jesus helped last week. Man, woman. Powerful, powerless. Member of the occupying army, part of the population being oppressed. And yet, Jesus helps both. Jesus healed the centurion’s servant, and in the next town over, interrupted a young man’s funeral in order to make it unnecessary.
And Jesus is just getting started. Because wherever Jesus shows up, things happen. Storms are calmed. Demons are cast out, people are healed. The hungry are fed. The blind receive sight. Children are blessed. Health is restored. Mourning is turned to joy. A dying criminal next to Jesus is given hope. A tomb is now empty, and the stone is rolled away.
The widow in this particular story experienced Jesus intruding into her most intimate grief and she was never the same again. She didn’t ask for Jesus help; she might not even known who he was. But she was experiencing a great loss, and Jesus restored to her what had been taken away.
She could easily have spoken the words of today’s psalm after her son was given back to her. Yes, it was her son that was restored to her from the grave, but not having anyone to care for her must have felt like a fate worse than death. She must have been filled with fear.
But because of what Jesus did, her wailing in sorrow was turned into dancing for joy. She was no longer shrouded in clothes of mourning, but instead was overcome by happiness. Last night she wept, but today joy is here to stay.
But also those “homeless homeless” could have had this psalm on their lips as well, when they were rescued from a night as cold as death out on the Sandy damaged streets. Because the body of Christ, the hands and feet of Jesus, reached out to show kindness and mercy to the least of these. Because when Jesus shows up in our midst, amazing things happen.
What about in your own life? How has Jesus shown up and surprised you? …
When in your own life has Psalm 30 been the song of your heart? …
When were the times when you DIDN’T want Jesus to show up, because if he did, your comfortable, secure life would never be the same?
You should know, though, that nothing can deter Jesus, nothing can get in his way – not lack of space or resources, not enemies or fear, not security or comfort. And not even death can get in the way of the love and mercy of God. Amen.