By Rev. Joan Kessler
On this Sunday before Remembrance Day, as we consider the ultimate sacrifices that were made in the pursuit of freedom and peace, I am thinking about the role of women in the World War II effort. Women were not allowed to serve in combat but made significant contributions in every other aspect Canada’s military effort. Tens of thousands of women joined the Armed Forces as nurses and medics, pilots and clerks.
And then there were thousands who fought the war from the home front with all its varied challenges. The Canadian Government, under the authority of the War Measures Act, rolled out tight controls on everything from food prices to rent. Everything was in short supply and had to be rationed. Food staples like sugar, butter, eggs, and meat were spread thin so as to help provide food for those fighting overseas. Goods and materials like rubber, gasoline, metal and nylon, were difficult to come by because of demands that needed to be met by the war effort. There was a motto that encouraged households to, “Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make it Do, or Do Without”. A popular World War II poster stated, “I’m Patriotic” as it displayed a woman rolling her hair in toilet paper rolls in stead of curlers because the rubber and metal were needed elsewhere, namely in the production of weaponry and tires for military vehicles.
Women on the home front were left to do the work of men who went off to serve their country. This saw them raising children on their own, working outside the home, and contributing their skills to war-related volunteer work. They gave blood, they grew community gardens so fruits and vegetables could be widely shared; they bought war bonds because there was little else to spend money on.
There was this overwhelming sense of the Common Good. It was a collaborative effort to survive war…everyone contributed. Individualism was not a popular position. Some of us here this morning may have visited this notion of the Common Good in Richard Rohr’s morning commentaries this past week, in which he focuses on this experience of coming together for the wellbeing of all. His guest contributor one particular day, Jim Wallis, called for a return to this ancient way of living…where we look out for more than just ourselves but for one another.
In our reading for today, Jesus and the disciples are in Jerusalem and hanging about the Temple. And Jesus illuminates a picture of his society. In the background, he sees the scribes, the religious lawyers…they were honored at banquets and had the best seats wherever they went. In the contrasting foreground, there is a poor widow. Having arrived at the Treasury, she has come to deposit her two coins….all she had to live on. She, unlike the scribes, hopes to go unnoticed among the wealthy who can contribute larger sums. But Jesus notices her.
We have all heard reflections upholding the importance of the widow’s sacrifice. What an honorable act she performs in the name of her religious obligation. Is this what Jesus is calling the disciples’ attention to? A trusting woman giving her whole life to an institution that didn’t look after her needs?
I wonder why Jesus doesn’t go after her…this question bothers me. He could have followed her and given her some money or some food or some assurance that things will get better. But he doesn’t. Did he see her in that moment in all her humanity? The rich man, blind Bartimaeus, now this woman whom he doesn’t even converse with…why doesn’t he try to change their minds, why doesn’t he lay on guilt or compel them to be something they are not? Does Jesus know the price the woman paid that day as one who could least afford it? Did he notice her quiet dignity and courage show up that day, amidst the embarrassment she experienced every time she was in the public square…the scribes watching her as she let the last of her security slide out of her hand….to face her end with hope…she gave all she had to a system that had become corrupt and unjust.
Regardless of the state of the institution, she believed her two coins would make a difference to someone else.
Mark’s gospel is all about the cost of discipleship. It’s up to us what it looks like and feels like…what we will give away and what we will hold on to.
As we consider sacrifice this morning, maybe we will look in a different direction. Our COVID war poster reads the mantra offered to us by Dr. Bonnie Henry: Be Calm. Be Kind. Be Safe. And perhaps Keep Calm and Wear a Mask. Because to win this war, we are going to have to look to the Common Good…to continue to practice safety protocols….and to lovingly support those who are feeling hesitant about vaccination.
Jim Wallis from his reflection on the Common Good, reminds me that Christianity is all about relationships. It doesn’t divide and make one group the judge and ruler over another. Wallis frames it as a relationship that changes all our relationships. We are to notice, to look in the direction of those who are not like us and those who hold different views from our own. On this Remembrance Sunday, may we take time to remember the sacrifices of others for what we have today and use their self-giving as a model to make the choices and sacrifices that continue to be called for. We are still in this together. Amen.