33rd Sunday 2005
Every other Tuesday morning at 7AM < I meet with a group of women who come together to pray and share faith. It just happens that I am the only male in this group with 8 women. Each of them has a different profession. A nurse, a chaplain, a clinical psychologist, a superintendent of schools, two teachers, a government employee and a manager in the financial world. As the first words from Proverbs were read “When on finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls.”, I could sense a good deal of discomfort, even some “cringing. When it came time to share reflections on the reading, I asked why “to a woman” the reaction to this reading was so negative or “reserved”. The strongest criticism was that this woman was not seen for herself but for her role, as wife. She is seen from a male and not a female perspective.
The irony of course is that the editors of the lectionary have left out some of the most pertinent details in describing this woman.
In addition to everything you heard about this woman:
“She considers a field and buys it, with her own earnings she plants a vineyard. She girds herself with strength and makes her arms strong. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. She makes linen garments and sells them. She supplies the merchant with sashes. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom and the teachings of kindness are on her tongue. This woman is something else. She is an incredibly versatile woman who manages to keep everything going in her home and out in the world. She is truly “superwoman” in all that she achieves.
But “Who is this woman?” Is she defined by her roles in life, her charitable activities, her business acumen, her relationship with her husband and children? Is she “for real”? (I don’t know if anyone has been watching Commander in Chief but the president of the United States in this show could be a replica of the woman in proverbs who tries to balance running a country with being wife, mother etc) Is she for real?
One could get the impression from today’s scriptures that what matters is not who we are but what we do, how industrious and successful we are in life. The Gospel seems to have a similar theme in the way that it praises the industrious servants who make something of what they have been given and in its damning of the one who “dug a hole” and buried what he had been given “for fear”. This man is paralyzed by his fear of the master whom he judges to be unjust and unfair. It is interesting that the first two servants don’t seem to feel that way. Why are they not afraid? What is there experience of the Master that gives them the freedom and the ingenuity to make the best of what they have? So why is that servant so afraid?
I wonder if the “fear factor” may not be the clue to understanding the scriptures today. Fear paralyzes us. It keeps us from loving, even keeps us from accepting ourselves, keeps us from letting ourselves be known. One of the most interesting lines from the book of proverbs that was left out is that this woman “laughs at the time to come”. For some reason this woman is “fearless” as she looks into the future. What is it that enables her to laugh at the time to come. Ironically it may be fear, but a different kind of fear. “Fear of the Lord”. What’s that about?
Somehow what grounds this woman is a relationship with God who is so faithful, so loving, that she is “awed” by God’s love for her. That’s what AWE is! It’s when your “blown away” by something that is so beyond what you ever imagined it could be! When you have some experience of God that is so rooted in “hesed” faithful love, your response is to live in love and not fear, to live in service to the other, and to “laugh at the time to come”.
The women whom I pray with every other Tuesday morning at 7AM are awesome women, not just because of what they have accomplished but because like the women in the Proverbs their “fear of the lord” comes from a relationship with God whose love and faithfulness strengthens them, inspires them to live loving and generous lives.
God’s faithfulness to each of us invites a similar response: to live loving and generous lives>