What is AFEW? I just made it up.
It stands for Alien, Fatherless, Elderly, Widow. Have you ever noticed how often the bible talks about these folks? The Old Testament has numerous instructions to have a care and respect for foreigners, orphans and widows. I have added the aged members of our society to the list because I see a common trend in the list.
Consider the culture of Old Testament Jews. People relied heavily on family. Men had a responsibility to work to provide income for their family and women had a responsibility to deal with the needs in the home. There was no welfare system; a married couple would have as many children as possible so that they could be cared for when they were too old to work anymore, and if they were suffering hardship for any reason, they would go to members of their family, parents or adult siblings for help.
What does that mean for the widow and the fatherless? A woman who had lost her husband to illness or injury had to rely on her children for provision if they were old enough to work, assuming she had any children. Otherwise she would have to go to her parents or other family members for help. If she had no family to go to she might end up being forced to become a beggar or a prostitute in order to survive, her situation became even more desperate if she had small children who also needed care. The situation was similar for children that had become orphans, and for aged people who found themselves childless and alone.
It was considered a great disgrace for the relatives of such a person if they allowed them to suffer that kind of fate without doing anything they could, even to the point of becoming beggars themselves, in order to help.
What about the foreigner? Someone who was disconnected from their homeland, customs they understand and family and friends they could rely on? Having recently spent a year as a foreigner in another country, away from so much that I was accustomed to, and with only a small number of people that I could effectively communicate with, I have some appreciation of what that feels like. What would have happened to someone in that situation if they became ill and couldn’t work? They may not have had family to count on.
If you read the book of Ruth, you can see a situation like this in which a widow, Naomi, whose sons have died, and her daughter in law , Ruth, who is a foreigner, and also a widow, are cared for by a relative, a good man named Boaz.
In our modern society, we have a welfare system that provides for those who are unable to provide effectively for themselves. But this isn’t just about financial provision. A man’s responsibility was never just to provide for his family. He should love his wife, caring for her needs, he should teach his sons by his example how to be good and responsible men and teach his daughters by his example to recognise the love of a good and responsible man.
I recently went to hear former Deputy Prime Minister, the honourable John Anderson speak, and one thing he said was that he felt the biggest largely unaddressed issue in Australian society today was that of fatherless children. What we see today is a great number of young people growing up in a family where their father is absent. We see grandparents disconnected from their family by the business of life, and we hear a lot of people shouting that we should send the foreigners home.
Now it may be beside the point, but it does seem to me that anyone in this country (Australia) whose family arrived on a boat or a plane any time after 1600 AD is something of a hypocrite if they want to turn similar people away now.
I suppose what I am getting at here is that I, as a man who believes that I have been given certain responsibilities by God, keep finding scriptural injunction to stand up for those who are disenfranchised. I keep coming back to the same list, the alien, those who are separated from their home and family; the fatherless, young people growing up with an absent father; the elderly whose family no longer have time to spend with them, and the widow, the struggling mums who are lonely and feel neglected.
Now, I haven’t said anything much about women’s responsibilities in any of this (sorry ladies, I’m not going to tell you what you should do), I am talking mostly to the men, because I feel that the time is long overdue for men to step up and take some responsibility for these issues.
I don’t know exactly what I can do for any of these folks, but I figure being aware of and prepared to act on my responsibility in this is probably a good place to start. Maybe some of the folks out there who read this can give me some suggestions.