Corrie Ten Boom, a watchmaker who lived with her family, helped to hide Jews during the Nazi occupation of Holland in WW2. Her family was discovered, and they were rounded up with other Dutch citizens and sent to concentration camps. Corrie and her sister Betsie were at the Ravensbruck camp. She wrote several books after her release — which was a clerical mistake — that testify to the presence of Jesus she and her sister knew while they were in the camps. In her book The Hiding Place, Corrie tells of just one incident of God’s providence towards her, her sister, and the women who were in the barracks with them. She writes:
Another strange thing was happening. The liquid vitamin bottle was continuing to produce drops. It scarcely seemed possible, so small a bottle, so many doses a day. Now, in addition to Betsie, a dozen others on our pier were taking it.
My instinct was always to hoard it — Betsie was growing so very weak! But the others were ill as well. It was hard to say no to eyes that burned with fever, hands that shook with chill. I tried to save it for the very weakest — but even these soon numbered fifteen, twenty, twenty-five…
And still, every time I tilted the little bottle, a drop appeared at the tip of the glass stopper. It just couldn’t be! I held it up to the light, trying to see how much was left, but the dark brown glass was too thick to see through.
“There was a woman in the Bible,” Betsie said, “whose oil jar was never empty.” She turned to it in the book of Kings, the story of the poor widow of Zarephath who gave Elijah a room in her home: “The jar of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of Jehovah which he spoke by Elijah.”
Well — but — wonderful things happened all through the Bible. It was one thing to believe that such things were possible thousands of years ago, another to have it happen now, to us, this very day. And yet it happened this day, and the next, and the next, until an awed little group of spectators stood around watching the drops fall onto the daily rations of bread.
Many night I lay awake in the shower of straw dust from the mattress above, trying to fathom the marvel of supply lavished upon us. “Maybe,” I whispered to Betsie, “only a molecule or two really gets through that little pinhole — and then in the air it expands!”
I heard her soft laughter in the dark. “Don’t try too hard to explain it, Corrie. Just accept it as a surprise from a father who loves you!”
Betsie references our passage from the Old Testament this morning. Elijah goes to a woman and young son who are about to starve. He tells her to bring him some bread. But her response is that she is gathering sticks to make a last bit of bread to feed herself and her son knowing that they will soon die. What shocks me about this passage is her honesty. She doesn’t tell Elijah to leave. She doesn’t offer an excuse. She doesn’t try to negotiate. She simply tells him what is happening in her life and what will soon occur for herself and her son. Elijah hears her, and though we are not told of his emotional response, we do see what he says to her. He tells her to use that meal and oil and make the bread and feed him with it. She does, and they all eat for many days for neither the jar of meal nor the jar of oil were ever emptied. This story is simple and unadorned. God moves within the lives of these people with powerful simplicity. And in order for Him to be able to work, it only required one thing.
We move on to our passage in Hebrews that speaks of Christ dying once for us so that we may have atonement for our sins. In the Old Testament, the priests had to enter into the Holy of Holies and offer the sacrifices for the people each year. But with Christ’s death and resurrection, that sacrifice is complete. The atonement never ends. The jar is never empty. The forgiveness is a well that never runs dry.
Corrie Ten Boom shared an encounter that occurred much later in her life. She writes, “It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, a former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center and Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since the time. And suddenly it was all there — the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.
“He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. ‘How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein.’ He said. ‘To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!’ His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.
“Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him. I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I prayed, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.
“As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”
We come to our Gospel passage, and in it we witness the one thing that caused the widow, her son, and Elijah to have an endless supply of meal and oil. Through our Gospel we understand how Jesus offers salvation once for all of time and humanity. And the story from our Gospel is the widow who gave two copper coins out of her poverty into the treasury. In these illustrations we see that these people gave all they had to Jesus. She didn’t question, she didn’t boast, she didn’t hesitate. She simply gave.
What happened to the widow and her son after Elijah left? What happened to the widow who gave the two copper coins, who gave all she had? We aren’t told. We don’t know. But why don’t the writers include the results? Well, to put it plainly, I don’t believe the result is the point. What happens next isn’t for us to know. Instead, the lesson to be learned is what our behavior is to be. It isn’t an “if…then…” situation. We are simply to be honest with ourselves and with those around us. We are simply to be willing to admit that alone we are inadequate. We are simply to give all we have. Not in the expectation of a response and not in the assumption of a potential outcome.
Will we always have the answers? Will we always have the right words? Will we always know what will happen next? Sadly, no, we won’t. But, it’s in that willingness to speak the words “I don’t know” that we find Jesus. Isn’t He all we need?
I pray that we remain honest. I pray we accept Jesus in every part of our lives. I pray we give everything to Him. And I pray that His love and guidance and protection continues to overflow and overwhelm us even when we can’t and won’t know what happens next.