Long before Jesus, the prophet Elijah asked a widow for her last handful of food. She gave it, and received blessing. In today’s gospel, Jesus warns the disciples about the scribes who devour widows’ houses. Almost on cue, a widow throws her only two cents into the temple alms box. Should this remind us more of Elijah or of the scribes—or of something else? Jesus’ comments about this widow who cast in all she had, her whole life, are his final words in the temple.
As they leave, the disciples marvel over its architecture, but Jesus can sense that the city will fall; his own death is closing in. He speaks at length about how terrifying that time will be, and how they are to hold firm (Mark 13). Then the priests and scribes begin to look for a way to kill him. While he is at table, a woman walks in carrying a jar of ointment whose price could support someone for a year. She breaks it open and pours the oil over Jesus’ head, prophetically anointing him for burial (Mark 14). Both the temple and Jesus’ body will be shattered, like the alabaster jar. He too will be devoured by the scribes.
The long speech about not being led astray in the midst of chaos is framed by these two stories of corrupt religious leaders and lavishly generous women: the deep-pocketed scribes and the widow in the temple, and the plotting scribes and the woman at the dinner. In the most frightening, maddening, circumstances possible, the widow and the anointer both give freely—like Jesus himself.
Our days grow short. The world is filled with grief, trouble, and violence. Will our efforts robe a scribe or feed a prophet? Will we burn out, give up, or endure? We can only dare to engage—to cast in whatever we have—through the power of the anointed one who first freely poured out life for, and into, us. (Augsburg Fortress, 2015)
This coming Wednesday is Remembrance Day and so, as this Sunday is the closest to Remembrance Day, as part of our gathering rite we will have a Litany for Peace. May God's day of peace come quickly.