the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
WIDOW (χήρα).—Four widows are referred to in the Gospels.
1. Anna of the tribe of Asher (Luke 2:36-38), a devout woman described as a prophetess, who had been a widow eighty-four years, and who constantly frequented the Temple, passing her time in fastings and prayers, and who, coming up at the moment of the presentation of the infant Saviour, moved by the spirit of prophecy, spake of Him to those present who were expecting the redemption of Jerusalem. The Lewis MS of the Syriac Gospels says that Anna lived only seven days with her husband, an alteration not improbably made by some scribe with the object of reducing Anna’s age to a less unusual limit. See also art. Anna.
2. The widow of Sarepta or Zarephath, referred to by our Lord in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:25-26) as an instance of a Gentile who had entertained Elijah, and had received a blessing by his means. It has been suggested by A. Meyer (Jesu Muttersprache, iv. 8) that the word ‘widow’ here may have been ‘Gentile’ in some Aramaic original, ܐܪܡܢܬܐ (armaitha), the feminine of ‘Gentile’ or ‘Syrian ‘having been confused with ܐܪܡܠܬܐ (armalta), ‘a widow.’ If this were so, then our Lord’s reference to Naaman the Syrian would be balanced by a reference to ‘a woman who was a Syrian’ or ‘Gentile.’
3. The widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17), a little town situated a few miles to the south of Mount Tabor in Galilee, to whom our Lord uttered His compassionate ‘Weep not’ just before restoring her only son to life. The people who witnessed the miracle exclaimed that a great prophet had risen up among them, probably with reference to Elijah or Elisha, the former of whom, like Christ, had raised a widow’s son.
4. The poor widow who cast her two mites into the treasury (Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21:1-4), whom Christ commended. It should not be forgotten in practical applications of this incident and of our Lord’s praise of the widow, that she cast in ‘all her living,’ that is to say, her day’s entire income, or ‘all that she had to live upon until more should be earned’ (Swete), and that consequently the phrase ‘widow’s mite’ is incorrectly applied to small sums deducted, and more or less easily spared, from a daily income.
In addition to these four widows, who were actual persons, a widow is a character in one of our Lord’s parables (Luke 18:1-8), who, having no power to enforce the justice she claims, obtains it at length by her importunity; and from this our Lord draws His a fortiori conclusion that God will hear and answer those who cry day and night unto Him. Further, widows are referred to by Christ (Matthew 23:14 [omitted by Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ], Mark 12:40, Luke 20:47) as being often cruelly oppressed and defrauded by the Pharisees of His day.
It may be regarded as certain that our Lord’s mother was a widow during the time of His ministry, hence His recommendation of her, just before His death, to the beloved disciple (John 19:26 f.).
The honourable and important position which widows occupied in the early Church is entirely in harmony with the respectful and sympathetic tone in which they are referred to in the above places of the Gospels.
In the Lewis MS of the Syriac Gospels the Syrophœnician woman (Mark 7:26) is described as a widow. This may be another instance of the possible confusion of ‘widow’ and ‘Gentile’ alluded to above.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Widow'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​w/widow.html. 1906-1918.