There is an architectural feature in homes built in the 1800s or before called a Widow's Walk. It is a square top to a home that features a small path with rails built to prevent someone from falling. It was given the name "Widow's Walk" according to popular belief because houses with this feature were often built near seaports or harbors so that women whose husbands had gone out on fishing boats or other sea going vessels could stand at that high point and look out into the distance, hoping to catch a glimpse of their husband's boat returning to safe harbor. The woman could look out into the distance for as long as she could, held safe by the rails built around the top of the roof.
When Doris and I were in the Maritime Provinces of Canada a year ago, we spent two nights at a bed and breakfast in St. John, New Brunswick. The B&B is in an old house that dates back to the late 1800s and it has a widow's walk around the roof top of one part of the house. My wife asked for permission from the owners to be able to go up to the widow's walk so we did a bit of exploring in the public parts of the house and finally reached the upper level. The door leading to the widow's walk had been locked preventing guests from going outside (most likely for insurance purposes) but you could see out a bit across the way. My wife had a special interest in learning more about widow's walks because she had read a story in which a woman would look out from one as she waited for her husband to come home.
Widows were people who were dependent upon society in the ancient world because a woman had to have a man to support her or she would be destitute. Women did not work to earn money and were responsible for all the needs of the home. Women were considered property of a man, first a father, and then after her married was arranged, a husband. Women were cared for by a man all their lives until their husband died and, if she was too old to have another husband, a woman was dependent upon the kindness of others in her community to keep her from starving. Many times a widow would be housed with her relatives because she would have no property due to claims by other relatives upon her husband's house.
The widow in this week's Gospel lesson in Mark is a poor beggar woman. She is called a widow by Jesus but the Greek word for her indicates that she is a widow and a beggar. The fact that she has two coins most likely has to do with her good fortune of someone giving those to her while she was begging. The fact that she would give away those to coins to the Temple treasury is more than astounding. It is beyond belief. The beggar woman who needed what those coins could buy to simply live another day gave away her means of sustenance, placing herself solely dependent upon God's grace.
Perhaps that is the greater lesson contained in the story. Pastors have preached this text over and over again, as will this pastor this Sunday. The main idea in the sermon has more than not been that if a poor widow woman could put in the offering all she possessed, then we should consider at least giving a greater portion to the ministry that the church can do. That is not a bad idea...in fact, it is a pretty good one. The better lesson for me to emphasize, however, I think has to do with dependence on God's grace and mercy and living a life that indicates that we cannot survive on our own, regardless of how much money we may have.
Jesus watches the woman put in her two coins just as he has seen many wealthy religious persons put in their offerings and he makes a comparison, saying that she gave out of her want while they gave out of their wealth and that she gave far more than they did. Her total abandonment of her possessions meant that she placed herself totally in God's care. The giving of the wealthy persons was not discounted as important by Jesus but he made the point that they still had plenty left over to pay their way so they really did not need God in the same way that the widow did.
When we come to the place that we realize our dependence upon God, we place ourselves squarely in God's care and admit our need for God. We begin to trust God with our lives and allow God to be in control of our lives in a way that we had not in the past. We admit that we cannot live unto ourselves but must allow God to be an active part of our lives. That time comes for many when they face up to a situation that they can do nothing about. It may be a crisis situation in life that touches them in a way that they cannot fathom how it can be resolved. Once they admit that to God and tell God that only God can help them, then they are at the place where God's grace can begin to work in their lives in a greater way.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, accepted her role as mother of the one to be the savior of the world. "Let it be with me according to your will," she said. After that submission to God's will, she became the one who would be admired and honored by many in the world. We allow God to use our lives as we give up the claim on the things that we think we have achieved and admit our dependence on God.