“This Woman’s Work”
September 23, 2012
First Christian Church
I’m taking a risk in preaching this text. The passage in Proverbs about a “capable” wife and as you can tell, I’m a man. Men tend to get into trouble talking about women, especially those of us in the pulpit and for good reason. The passage has been used and preached at funerals and Mother’s Day. Many of the folk who preach this text think that preaching about this woman who “has it all” is doing good on women. But using the text that way is a lot like what a Barbie doll is like, something that doesn’t exist in the real world.
Read the text carefully. When I read it, I start to realize that this woman is busy. She makes food for her family and even a little for the servant girls, she makes garments for her household, takes care of the poor, buys land, and seems to never sleep. What comes to my mind is not praise, but…”girl, you need to take a vacation!” This woman seems to be able to anything and everything. No doubt, she also was able to solve global warming, balance the federal government and solve the Israeli-Palestinan conflict. This is a fictional woman. She is not someone to follow. This “woman” makes actual women feel inadequate. They might feel like their lives are busy, but a woman could feel that no matter what they do they will always fall short.
So what is the passage all about?
A little background. Proverbs is part of what is called Wisdom Literature, which also includes Psalms, Eccesiastes, Song of Solomon and Job. These books are a bit different than other books in the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures. Most of the other books are basically stories. These books are more of a collection of sayings that offer a view of what reality is like.
The second thing you should know is there is a reason that the writer of Proverbs talks about a woman. The first chapter of Proverbs talks about Lady Wisdom, wisdom personified as a wise woman. It was not unusual that people in that part of the world would think of wisdom as female. The Greeks called Wisdom , Sophia, which yes, is a name we give to girls. Hebrew society also thought of being wise as a “feminine” virtue. Christianity also has its view of Lady Wisdom found in the New Testament and in early Christianity. This all means that the woman found in Proverbs is actually the personification of wisdom. The writer was saying that this imaginary woman was an example of what a life lived with wisdom would look like.
The final thing you should know is the context in which this is written. Verses 1-9 of chapter 31 comes from the voice of a mother telling her son how to live a good life. She tells him not to take strong drink and to always stick up for the voiceless in society.
The king’s mother knew that her son was going to marry a woman someday. She wanted him to know what to look for in a partner. Which is why we have the passage we read today. The king’s mother wasn’t saying that the queen had to do all these things, but she was telling her son that these are the qualities you want to look for in a wife. Someone who works hard, who cares not only for her family, but the wider community. She’s savvy with money, resourceful, and is not described by her beauty, but for her character.
The passage starts off with calling the woman “capable” or “competent.” In Hebrew, the word that has been translated in being capable is the word for “valor.” Valor is a word that is attributed to men, but here it is being used to describe a woman.
What this all means to us is that we are called to live lives of valor. The “capable” wife is wisdom personified, giving us an example of what it means for us to lead noble lives.
We are called Christians, or Christ-followers and we are expected to act in a way that is exemplary. We don’t have to go far into the history of the world to see how Christians have not lived up to the hype. Proverbs 31 never mentions God, but you can see God in these passages. God calls us to be people who live for others, who cares for everyone, who’s confident and brave and noble.
As we leave this church and go back to our homes and places of work, we need to constantly be reminded to live lives of integrity. The woman in Proverbs 31 gives us an example. May we have the courage to follow her advice and her life. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Note: Bonus points if you know where I got the sermon title from.