It was dark and quiet outside. The rest of the village was still asleep when Elsie woke up that morning. She had numerous chores to attend to before she could set off to town.
Elsa was in her sixties – a tall, good-looking woman whose rural upbringing had given her an enviable physique. Her well-proportioned figure, smooth wheat complexion and a self-assured gait made her stand out in a crowd.
Johnny her husband had known her since childhood. He used to watch her frolicking in the fields as a little girl or singing, as she hopped and skipped on her way to school. Her two plaits would fly in the wind as she chased butterflies that dared cross her path.
Then one fine day, Johnny was sent to the city for his education. It was years before he came back for a visit.
Elsie smiled to herself as she remembered the look in his eyes.
“ Goodness me! You’re all grown up Elsie. You look beautiful. But what are you doing standing here all alone by the river?”
“ Hey,” she teased, “ Have you left your spectacles in the city? Can’t you see I’m going for a swim?”
She jumped into the water to hide the blush that had crept into her cheeks.
“ I’m coming too,”
“No, you’re not. Do you want the whole village to gossip about us?”
“ Who cares? I’m going to marry you anyway.”
But marriage didn’t follow immediately. There were many hurdles to cross. Johnny belonged to an educated, sophisticated, progressive family. His parents wanted him to marry someone with a decent education – someone who would be his soul mate both physically and intellectually. Not just a naïve village belle from the backwaters of Kerala!
Elsie’s folk were farmers. They owned vast acreage of paddy fields, fruit trees, poultry and dairy animals. Education was not at a premium in their world. Elsie had dropped out of school in her teens, to be trained for her future role as housewife.
Both families opposed the union.
“ Elsie has never been out of this village,” said her father, “ She’ll be a misfit in the city. Why don’t you find a city-bred lady and leave my daughter alone?”
“ Your lifestyles are totally incompatible,” said Johnny’s mother. “ When she doesn’t live up to your expectations, you’ll get frustrated and probably ditch her.”
But love prevailed. Johnny threatened to elope with Elsie if both families didn’t give them their blessings and agree to a decent church wedding.
As her thoughts went back to those days, Elsie brushed away the tears from her eyes.
“ How vivid those memories are!” she thought, as she walked to the river for her morning bath. Though it was dark, she could negotiate the crooked path even with her eyes blind-folded. The cool water on her body would wash away her sad thoughts.
“ I miss him so much, even six long years after he has gone. If only God had taken me instead!”
Everyone thought she was a brave woman, coping with widowhood so well. No one could fathom the depths of her loneliness. It was a private grief that invited no one’s pity or patronage.
“Johnny wanted me to be brave. But how difficult it is!”
After her bath, she hurried back feeling refreshed and ready for the day.
Johnny had never been clever with his money. They lived well but not extravagantly. He never bothered to save something for a rainy day.
“He was a sucker for sob stories, and would easily part with his money. ‘ Lay not up for yourself treasures where moth and rust corrupt,’ he often quoted. And as long as there was food on the table, I didn’t protest.”
When Johnny retired from his job as a Professor of English, they returned to their village permanently. It was a healthy place to spend their old age, far from the dust and pollution of the city. Their modest cottage was set in a garden full of different fruit trees, and overlooked a river where birds of all kinds flocked. Here Elsie could indulge in all the activities she had missed in the city – gardening, poultry, and even a cow that would provide fresh milk everyday.
Life had been peaceful. They had come to terms with their losses. Their first child a girl, had succumbed to Meningitis in infancy. Their son had gone off to the Gulf in pursuit of petrodollars, before he could complete his studies. They had never heard from or seen him again. It was a grievous blow to his parents. But together they had weathered the storm, seeking comfort from each other and drawing neared to God.
And then one day Johnny was gone, clutching at his heart in agony.
“After thirty six years of companionship, love and togetherness, he left me alone with an aching void in my heart. But even with his last breath he kept assuring me that I wouldn’t have to worry. My needs had been taken care of. I wonder what he meant by that? Did he say it to console me?”
Life soon became difficult for Elsie. There was precious little to fall back on. All she got was a quarter of his pension. It didn’t stretch beyond a week.
But Elsie was resourceful. Being an excellent cook, she decided to put her culinary skills to use. There were two restaurants close by which were patronized by the villagers. The men here worked hard and had ravenous appetites. Elsie entered into a contract with the owners, to keep them supplied with steamed rice cakes every day. She also provided a sweet coconut sauce or a delicious mutton stew to go with the cakes. Though it wasn’t a lucrative business, it was enough to keep her comfortable. She also sold eggs and milk to the same restaurants.
But the payments her husband had to make quarterly to the Insurance Company had to be kept up.
“That makes things difficult,” she sighed, “ I have to skimp and save and forego some of my own personal needs. Who knows why he made this commitment? The reminder notices come like a warrant, demanding payment. I’ve been paying up for six long years.”
As she packed the soft spongy rice cakes in containers to carry to the restaurants, she determined that this would be her last payment.
“I will talk to the manager today and tell him to let me off. I need money to buy medicines. Old age is fast catching up with me. My knees hurt very much and my back too. I must see a doctor and start medication. I can’t afford to be crippled. I wonder how the manager will react.”
Now she began to dress for her trip. She wore the costume that was common among the rural folk of Kerala. A loose white blouse over an ankle length skirt or mundu. Her hair was tied up in a neat bun. She still had her large gold earrings and two solid gold bangles on each hand. Johnny had given them to her when they were married, and it would remain on her person till she died. She hoped that she would not be so hard-pressed that she would be forced to sell her jewelry.
Then Elsie began her long trek to the bus stop. En route, she dropped off her rice cakes at the restaurants. Though she had done the journey to town many times over, she was always a little nervous. Sometimes the conductor would be impatient, and ring the bell before she could even climb the first step.
“ I’ve been in danger of falling off on several occasions, and but for timely help from other passengers, I might have broken my bones. These days, young people are always in a hurry. No consideration or respect for the aged.”
As she got off, she felt for the money in her pouch. The strings of the pouch were safely tucked into the waistband of her skirt.
The very building was intimidating. They were constantly changing the counters, and often, having stood in the queue of a particular counter till she reached the window, she’d be told to move to another one. At least this time she was in the correct queue. She handed in her payment and then nervously began.
“Look young man, this will be my last installment. I cannot afford to keep up the payments any more. I’m struggling to make both ends meet.”
The clerk looked up at Elsie. In her eyes he saw defeat.
“Ma’am, on whose life has the insurance been taken?”
“On my husband’s. That’s the reason I’ve been paying up so faithfully. He’s been dead these six years, and what a struggle it has been for me to scrape the money together.”
“Are you the beneficiary?”
“How would I know son?”
The clerk was too surprised to answer immediately. Elsie looked concerned.
“Come with me,” he said at last, “ I’m sure the manager would like to see you.”
Elsie was worried sick.
“What will the manager say? Did Johnny owe these people money? How will I make another payment? Oh God, be kind to me. I can’t afford it anymore.”
The manager was all smiles.
“Sit down Ma’am,” he said, “ I have some really good news for you. If only you had informed us of your husband’s death earlier, you could have lived comfortably without a care in the world. Your husband made provision for you in the event of his death. He has left you a rich lady.”
Elsie couldn’t believe her ears.
“My dear, dear Johnny! Always so thoughtful and concerned about my welfare! Now I know what your last words meant. “Your needs are taken care of.’ What an ignorant fool I’ve been!”
“We’ll have your cheque ready soon. Do relax and relish your good news Madam.”
“Thank you Sir. Thank you indeed.”
This parable is a good example of the way some of us live our lives. Our ignorance of God’s wonderful provision for Eternal Life keeps us floundering in a sea of uncertainty. Like the woman in the parable, we have not taken the trouble to study the clauses in God’s Life Insurance Policy for humankind.
Eph 2:9 says “It is by Grace that you have been saved. Through Faith, and this is not of yourselves. It is the gift of God – not by works lest any man should boast.”
We plod along, hoping our good deeds and conduct will ensure us a place in Heaven. But Isaiah 64:6 tells us that “all our righteous works are like filthy rags.”
“Working out our salvation” (Phil 2:12 ) does not mean earning our salvation by works. It means working on our spiritual growth and development after we have received that “once-for-all” gift of salvation.
The woman spent many years of hard work and privation, trying to keep up her husband’s premium payments, ignorant of the provision he had made for her. Similarly many of us think our good works, charity, tithes, pilgrimages, asceticism will take us to heaven. We follow God men, miracle workers, charlatans and confidence tricksters who lure us with promises of sainthood.
Acts 4:12 says “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under Heaven given to men, by which we must be saved.”
Only when the woman confessed her inability to pay the next premium, was she able to enjoy the benefits of the policy left by her husband. She had come to the end of her resources. Likewise, we can inherit that great salvation which was purchased by Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross, only when we accept our spiritual emptiness, repent and seek forgiveness of our sins.
1 Peter 2: 24 “ He bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we being dead to sin should live in righteousness.”
Ignorance is no excuse. The Bible cautions “ How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” Hebrew 2:3.
The woman no doubt, went on to live a comfortable life, provided she spent her money wisely. Salvation is free, but it is incumbent on every Christian to lead a holy life. We discover our bankruptcy when we try to lead Christian lives on our own strength. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to cleanse us from defilement that occurs in ordinary daily life, and prepare ourselves for our citizenship in heaven. This can happen when we “ fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross scorning its shame.” (Heb.12:2) We know He will keep us from falling, if we walk this life with our hand in His.
“ This is a trustworthy saying and deserves full acceptance……….that we have put our faith in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men and especially those who believe.”
1 Tim. 4: 9,10.