Can’t you just see that widow? She’s been haunting me half the week so I’ve given her a name. Mrs. Cohen. A little, old, Jewish lady, wrinkled by the years, and hardly able to make it where she’s going. Bent over, thin-wristed, shabbily dressed, among the well-to-do who seem to make an outing of this, moving free and easy where she shuffles. I watch her finding her way, determined. Remembering her husband. Remembering better times. Remembering her home which seems so far away now. Remembering her dead friends, her uncaring children. Remembering what it used to be like when she didn’t care much either.
But she’s here. To care and to give—to give the one last thing she has. Not expecting it to make much difference but giving nonetheless. “A matter of duty,” her husband Joe would have said, “of responsibility.”
So she lines up with the rest who hardly notice her except to wrinkle their noses at how she smells in the heat—They all doing lightly what she does in earnest. Last Tuesday. Somewhere in Florida, where she once retired, she casts her vote. Knowing it is probably her last.
Jesus is watching her, surrounded by cameras and mikes, standing across from the voting booth. He’s stirred up by something, agitated—by her I think. And the media are baiting him.
“You want to know what God has to do with this election? Well look at her and learn! She has done more than all these others proudly wearing their ‘I Voted’ stickers.”
“But surely, Sir, a vote is a vote?”
“Oh no! For them it is easy to vote. Just one thing they do among all the ways they spend their time. Just another freedom. Another easy choice. They might not like the choices they have here but they go ahead and choose anyway. But she has dragged herself here to make her choice because it’s the only choice she has these days. Her only freedom. She’s poor. She’s old. But by God she’s going to vote.”
“But what’s that got to do with anything?”
“I knew her sixteen years ago. Back then she was just like these others. Just retired. Enjoying her first winter in paradise. Arm-in-arm with a husband. Laughing easily. Voting easily. But he got ill, did Joe Cohen. And he lay in hospital long enough to eat up their earnings, to devour their house and leave her struggling. Then leave her alone. She’s been almost surviving for 15 years.”
“But what’s that got to do with God and this election?”
“You think God doesn’t care? About her? About you? Isn’t this nation God’s great experiment in freedom, in justice? From sea to shining sea? That’s why she matters. And here she is making one last choice. Casting a vote. And look … These people are the ones who made her poor. He cheated her, quite legally, of her insurance. That guy over there administers the hospital that bled her dry. That woman runs the bank that foreclosed on her house. Now they’d all say it wasn’t their fault. They don’t have the leeway to go against the rules. They have to serve their shareholders. They can’t choose to be generous just because they want to. It’s not their fault if that’s the way the world works. They are just doing their job. … But why are things the way they are? Why does the hospital work that way? Why the bank? And where’s the safety net to catch her now she’s fallen? Who makes the rules and who lays down the law and who chooses how the money gets spent? If the Kingdom of Heaven is among us what the hell is going on here?”
“Are you some kind of communist Sir?!”
“Ask her! She wants to change the way things are. She wants to change the way the money is spent. She wants to lay down the law. And she’s not stupid. She knows she hasn’t much to choose from anyway. She knows that anyone she votes for is so tangled up in the same screwed up system that has battered her that he won’t have much to choose from either. But if she doesn’t choose she might as well be dead right now. That’s why she’s here! Because the kingdom of God belongs to such as her. And because she can’t stay silent in the face of all the quiet violence done to her.”
Well that’s what I thought I heard Jesus saying anyway … if you’d been there you might have heard it differently. But I don’t think so. I think he took Mrs. Cohen with him in his heart and learned from her. I think he learned about crushing violence and about sacrifice. A few years later he had his own choices to make. In the face of violence do you back down, do you deny all you’ve said and done, and retire to obscurity? Or do you cast your vote for the kingdom and get crucified into obscurity anyway? Do you agree to never open your mouth again to the words burning in your bones? Do you let the fire go out? Or do you go on and make a last fatal choice against violence?
What’s the point of getting killed for an ideal? Wouldn’t it be better to lie low and maybe come back later? Why the hell ride into Jerusalem? Why cause trouble? … I think that’s when he remembered Mrs. Cohen. And the importance of a choice. Even a futile choice. Even a wasted choice. What difference does a single vote make? What difference a life? Only time can tell.
November 11th, 2000