Small Things and Everything

Pentecost 24

First reading: Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17; Ps. 127 Alternate: 1 Kings 17:8-16; Ps. 146 • Heb. 9:24-28 • Mark 12:38-44

Wash yourself, anoint your body, put on your red dress and go down to the field where he is winnowing barley. After his stomach is full with food and drink, and his eyes heavy with sleep, place yourself next to him. He will tell you what to do (Ruth 3:3-4). Grace perfects nature, and thus this marriage arrangement becomes the means by which divine goodness is dispensed. Ruth has now a husband, a son, and the security they promise. Naomi too has become the mother of a child, for the women were saying, “A son has been born to Naomi!” The son, named Obed, becomes the father of Jesse, who becomes the father of David, from whom the Messiah comes. Grace perfects nature, and nature begins in minute things.

In a time of drought and famine the Lord God sent the prophet Elijah to Zaraphath of Sidon to live there and to find a widow from whom he would be nourished. Arriving at the gate of the city, the prophet espies the woman, inwardly discerning that she is the one. She is not, however, a woman of wealth. Instead, she is gathering sticks in preparation for her last supper, her final meal with her son. She moves with the resignation of those who await death. Her life’s savings are a cruet of oil, a fist full of grain, and sticks for a fire. At the insistence of the prophet and hearing the promise of God, she gives her grain and oil to Elijah first. By virtue of this sacrifice, “The jar of meal was not emptied; neither did the jug of oil fail.” This is not an odd moral lesson, an injunction to take yours from the desperate. It is a sign and strange wonder repeated across a broad swath of holy writ. God gets a lot done with very little.

In the gospel story, Jesus sits and observes. He sits and observes like us, but he is more than we are. He rests and looks in all the power of divine being. He sees people dropping coins in the treasury. The rich give much from their abundance, denying themselves not a single luxury. A poor woman put in two small copper coins, praying in the chamber of her heart, “All that I have, I give to you.” This is not a warped moral lesson, permission to preachers to extract cash from the incredulous. It is a sign of what God wants. “I will praise the Lord in my life” (Ps. 146). The Lord wants our love pouring out from the heart, vibrating in the mind, searing the soul, going from strength to strength. The Lord wants all that we are.

Have you noticed that our stories are about small beginnings and meager resources? A woman meets a man, a widow gives some bread, two small coins drop into a cup. Thus God is working in the world. There is a method here. God does not see as we see. God’s viewing is God’s working out of providence moment by moment in the smallest details, a mystery we cannot fully discern. There always remains for us, of course, the great trouble of suffering and God’s apparent indifference to human anguish. That great theme, however, must at times be withheld to give sufficient attention — lest we lose hope — to God’s calling. Writing this meditation (a small thing), I hear that calling. Reading it, you may hear it too. If you are a preacher, announce the closeness of God in love, bread, coins, and the ticking of time.

Look It Up
Read Mark 12:44. Her whole being.

Think About It
Who is God to ask for everything? The One who returns everything sanctified and true.


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