Seven Women at the Cross: A Black Feminist Speaks of Widows
This week I had the opportunity to speak at Spelman College’s 8th Annual Seven Women at the Cross. For those who are not familiar with Seven Women at the Cross Services it is a time when women preachers and speakers recount the last seven days of Christ living on Earth through the stories of the women he met on his way to the Cross. So, I thought I would share with you the speech I gave about the widow woman in Mark 12:41. Of course, it is a black feminist interpretation of the text.
“A poor widow came and put in two small cooper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciple and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mark 12: 41)
The story of the widow woman in Mark 12:41 is fundamentally a story about women pursuing their purpose . . . their most burning desire . . . that which calls them back to their center . . . irrespective of what it may cost them. And because they are widows the cost is high. You see, it’s a miserable existence to be a widow woman in a patriarchal culture because you are not valuable. To make you valuable in Biblical times as a woman you had to fulfill your purpose of first being a good daughter then a good wife, and most importantly being a good mother meaning you spent most of your time catering to the wishes of your father, your husband, and your children. That was your purpose.
However, the story of the widow woman tells of a different type of purpose one where persecution and poverty was the norm. It tells the story of what happens when you lack male kin—fathers, brothers, uncles, brother-in-laws, sons—to care for you. You see, without male support not only were you condemned to life a poverty, but your reputation as a good and decent woman was up for debate. It was a hard knock life being a widow woman. So much so that if we look throughout the Bible beginning with the Old Testament continuing through the New Testament, we see God and Jesus consistently reminding the children of Israel not to harm or misuse widows for if they do they will suffer the judgment of God.
So, the story of the widow woman and her two pennies is so profound because it tells two important stories about women pursuing their purpose in spite of the cost. First, it tells the story of what it means not to have to ask the men in our lives for their permission to pursue our dreams. And of course when I say men, I’m not only talking about Bubba and Tyrone with the good hair, I am talking about all the things “outside” of ourselves that try to tell us what our purpose is. You know what I’m talking about . . . those things that tell us we cannot step out to follow God’s purpose for our lives because we have visit all the sick and shut in because no one else at the church volunteered and we are good Christian women. Those things that say, we have to take our children to basketball practice then to ballet. Those things that say, we have to make sure he knows I love him so I am the wind beneath his wing . . . his neck . . . his backup singer . . . his Michelle Obama . . . the blood in his vein . . . his everything. Can I get a witness?
So, sometimes it is good to be widow women because widow women are free to hear “something within” without all the “outside” noises that come intentionally or unintentionally steal our focus on our purpose. Meaning, sometimes you say, “Right now, I am a widow woman and I ain’t got time to hear you, see you, or take you anywhere . . . its widow woman time . . . time for me to sit and hear what thus says the Lord for my life.”
So, sometimes we can choose to be widow women in the sense of telling our kids, partners, jobs, and churches, “No, that is not my purpose.” However, it is when we are forced to be widow women that the true nature of the widow woman and her two pennies become as the old folks say, flesh. It is when your back is against the wall and all you have is, “I open my mouth and call unto the Lord . . . I shall go, I will go, I’m gonna see what the end is gonna be.” Out of this sense of profound lack, pressure, persecution, alienation, and oppression, you say as the widow woman said I believe in God and I give my last two pennies to that which calls me back to my center . . . to my purpose . . . to my most burning desire. I will give my last two pennies. Even if it means I lose my job I am going to start my nonprofit agency to help teen girls know they are more than their bodies. I will give my last two pennies. Even if it means the church and my family shuns me, I am going to come out of the closet and I say I am a lesbian. I will give my last two pennies. Even if it means losing the love of my life, I will not allow him to hit me anymore because I know I am something special. I will give my last two pennies. Even if it means living on the street so that I can save my money to fight the family court system to get my daughter back from my husband who’s abusive . . . I will give my last two pennies.
It is this element of sacrifice when you have nothing to sacrifice that’s so amazing. I will give my last two pennies. And of course, let me say this that I am not talking about the sacrifice that we women do daily. Because if there is one thing we know as women, we know sacrifice. But, what I am talking about is that which pulls you back to your center, your purpose. Now that I think about it, the persecution of widow women was a warning to daughters and married women of what life awaits them if they lacked male protection and support a life of poverty and struggle. Fundamentally, their persecution was designed to keep non widow women from seeking their own voice within. In some ways, the persecution of the widow woman reminds me of what single black women experience daily in the news. I can’t turn on ABC News or CNN without them saying how damming it is to be a single black woman, how woefully inadequate you are because you are not married. And to that I say bah hum bug (I would say other things, but I’m in the house of the Lord can I get an Amen).
Overall, the story of the widow woman and her two pennies is the story of a black woman. It is the story of running when you have not one breath to spare. It is the story of raising children in a society that seek their demise. It is the story of black women finding love when everything in the media tells them they are not valuable . . . It is a story of women like Celie who say, “I may be Poor, I may be Black, I may be ugly, but dammit I’m here.” It is the story of Christ who saw himself as the widow woman knowing the ultimate sacrifice he would also have to give to fulfill his calling . . . his burning desire. (So, I need everyone to stand and say) I will give my last two pennies in pursuit of my purpose for I am a widow woman. , “I open my mouth and call unto the Lord . . . I shall go, I will go, I’m gonna see what the end is gonna be.”