The Widow says, “Take and Eat”

Crisely Melechio-Zambrano

October 20, 2019

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 121:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8

Response: Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

I lift up my eyes toward the mountains;
whence shall help come to me?
My help is from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
Response: Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

May he not suffer your foot to slip;
may he slumber not who guards you:
indeed he neither slumbers nor sleeps,
the guardian of Israel.
Response: Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

The LORD is your guardian; the LORD is your shade;
he is beside you at your right hand.
The sun shall not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
Response: Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

The LORD will guard you from all evil;
he will guard your life.
The LORD will guard your coming and your going,
both now and forever.
R.  Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Gospel: Luke 18:1-8

Jesus told his disciples a parable
about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. 
He said, “There was a judge in a certain town
who neither feared God nor respected any human being. 
And a widow in that town used to come to him and say,
‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’
For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought,
‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, 
because this widow keeps bothering me
I shall deliver a just decision for her
lest she finally come and strike me.’” 
The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. 
Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones
who call out to him day and night? 
Will he be slow to answer them? 
I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. 
But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

What a fascinating reading.  I’ve always struggled with it thinking, “Why on earth would Jesus compare God to this awful judge who only listens to the widow because he’s worn down and afraid she will ‘finally come and strike me?’” Uff. 

Upon pondering the scriptures, I’ve found an alternative way of looking at this reading to be very life giving to me, so I invite you into it as well.  What if God is not the unjust judge but rather the widow in this story?  What if God is actually found in the weakest among us?  God coming to us with arms open, palms up, rather than in robes and a gavel proclaiming judgement.  God persistent as all get out.  See this God, I recognize.  This God of the widow is familiar to me as I imagine it is familiar to most of us here.  This widow who is presumed to be nothing but a burden to society is here to teach us and show us the way.  Our God who comes again and again to our side, who is with us over and over again in our pushing back against injustice towards transformation. 

What a gift to be in a community of people who show us what it is to be that persistent widow. 

I think of Eve, in her again and again showing up and offering all that she is in her fight against injustice in its many forms.  It seems to come back to that place we were speaking about last week with call: she can’t not do it.  Can’t not do everything in her power to make a difference. 

I think about Michael Schaff and his determination (that he would say he got from his mom).  He is faithful day in and day out, rain or shine, snow or Christmas day, to make it to McDonalds for his cup (or multiple cups) of decaf coffee, and of course, more importantly his faithfulness to the community he has built there over almost forty years.  And don’t even get me started on his faithfulness to the L’Arche community. 

I think of Marja’s consistent, humble protests against banks funding private prisons until there was finally a change in the structure.  Jenny’s persistence with her bears, William’s persistence to pray for Trump.  The list goes on and on. 

I think of that persistence as a drop of water.  Drop, drop, drop.  Again and again and again.  My brother Luis (who was present at camp meeting) lives in Ithaca, NY.  When visiting him in Ithaca this year I learned that they have these gorges -- which are basically canyons that are formed by the trickling of water that freezes and then breaks off these impressively large chunks of stone to create these stunning formations.  What hopefulness God gives us in this story to remember the power of that persistent drop, drop, drop. 

And doesn’t it seem to come at a perfect time in our world (although I imagine we could always use this encouragement)?  It’s all too easy to be cynical and think “at this point, what does it matter?” I know people (myself included at times) who care deeply about our world and find the grief of our current state to be too much to bear … so why not just give up, why vote when it doesn’t seem to make a difference, why change my plastic consumption when the ocean animals are all going to die anyway, why keep talking about white privilege when racism only seems to be getting stronger. 

Jesus tells us, “Not yet!   Don’t give up!   The dawn comes in the morning.”

I think of the wakeup call I got a couple of weeks ago when listening to the voice of Greta Thunberg at the UN Summit.  My goodness, let me tell you, after hearing her words, I was reminded of my responsibility not to give up, because it’s not just about me, or about any one of us individually.  I’m reminded of our discussion at camp meeting which I had the opportunity to represent through a banner; we not only have those shoulders we stand on of those who came before, but we also have those generations that come after.  I have a responsibility to Santiago and all those who come after us, to not.  give.  up.

I would be remiss to not speak about the widow as mother.  Now if I had to guess, nothing could inspire that much constant persistence from the widow as needing to provide justice for her children.  Talk about that call to something you can’t not do.  That call that Kate so perfectly named last week.  Mothers over and over again do whatever it takes, responding to their call. 

It reminds me of God’s call (if I can say that in the least heretical way). God can’t not love us, in the way that a mother’s deepest pull on her soul is to her children.  There are obvious caveats that we won’t go too much into right now like: of course, there is always the choice to love, and we can always say no to our calls, hence the brokenness in our world, not to mention the mental health or trauma that prevents someone from loving.  And I haven’t said anything about fathers (thankfully, I live with a beautiful example of that).  I am aware that there are several of us here who have had broken, absent, and non-nurturing relationships with our mother, and I want to honor that pain.  So please only take from my words what is useful to you to draw closer to God. 

And with all of that being said, what I mean to say is that God just wants to delight in us, to walk with us.  I can choose to not love Santiago, but I don’t want to make that choice … absolutely, not. 

We are not being persistent on our own.  The psalmist says, “God is your guardian and your shade.  Beside you at your right hand.”

God tell us again, “I am with you.  I am with you in the suffering.  I am with you in the constant press from brokenness to beloved community.”

I, personally, am discovering in rich and new ways how connected I feel to God as Mother and as such to the divine within me.  I can’t think of a time in my life I’ve felt such an embodied experience of not only closeness to God, but God within and through me.  As I can’t help but absolutely delight in Santiago, it opens up a window within me to imagine, “My goodness, how much must God dance over my existence.” Honestly, sometimes I feel like I’m just walking around pretending that everything is normal, when I have this overflowing, too big to contain, explosive love within me.  Shoot, I’m happy when the kid poops, pulls my hair, and wakes up crying in the middle of the night.  What must God feel towards me?  All that time I’ve wasted being hard on myself, while all the while God is there, cheering “Yay!   She pooped!”   It reminds me of Thomas Merton writing,

 I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.  This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud.  And if only everybody could realize this!   But it cannot be explained.  There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. 

This Universal Christ experience as Richard Rohr calls it, I’ve been feeling invited to it again and again lately.  This overwhelming love that might originate with the little human that grew inside of me, can’t help but reflect onto the others around me.  Each of us is a child of God. 

And, what a powerful thing, to feed and grow another human with my very flesh.  I’ve always been drawn to Communion/the Eucharist during mass, and here I am giving my body for someone to be nourished. 

Later in the psalm, it says “May they slumber not who guards you.  Indeed they neither slumber not sleep, your guardian.” Like a mother with her newborn.  Like my mother when we were teenagers and not home yet.  Or like Alfonso and I last night!

There is a poem by Allison Woodward that I first heard a few years ago, and, when I listened to it again recently with Alfonso, only rang more true, and I want to share it with you, too:

To be a Mother is to suffer; To travail in the dark, stretched and torn, exposed in half-naked humiliation, subjected to indignities for the sake of new life.

To be a Mother is to say, “This is my body, broken for you,” And, in the next instant, in response to the created’s primal hunger, “This is my body, take and eat.”

To be a Mother is to self-empty, To neither slumber nor sleep, so attuned You are to cries in the night — Offering the comfort of Yourself, and assurances of “I’m here.”

To be a Mother is to weep over the fighting and exclusions and wounds your children inflict on one another; To long for reconciliation and brotherly love and — when all is said and done — To gather all parties, the offender and the offended, into the folds of your embrace and to whisper in their ears that they are Beloved.

To be a mother is to be vulnerable — To be misunderstood, Railed against, Blamed For the heartaches of the bewildered children who don’t know where else to cast the angst they feel over their own existence in this perplexing universe

To be a mother is to hoist onto your hips those on whom your image is imprinted, bearing the burden of their weight, rejoicing in their returned affection, delighting in their wonder, bleeding in the presence of their pain.

To be a mother is to be accused of sentimentality one moment, And injustice the next. To be the Receiver of endless demands, Absorber of perpetual complaints, Reckoner of bottomless needs.

To be a mother is to be an artist; A keeper of memories past, Weaver of stories untold, Visionary of lives looming ahead.

To be a mother is to be the first voice listened to, And the first disregarded; To be a Mender of broken creations, And Comforter of the distraught children whose hands wrought them.

To be a mother is to be a Touchstone and the Source, Bestower of names, Influencer of identities; Life giver, Life shaper, Empath, Healer, and Original Love.

 Beautiful God, our Mother, our Guardian, our Persistent Widow, thank you for being with us in every step, breathing and flowing with us, nourishing us with your very body as found through the community surrounding us.  Flow through us as we become drops of water, breaking stone. 

Amen.