33rd Sunday in Ordinary Times  A
Prior to getting my current job, I had the good fortune to teach philosophy for over twenty years. Semester after semester, I would try unceasingly to get my students to become critical thinkers and to approach a text, whether it be a philosophy book or a newspaper editorial, with both a discerning eye and a degree of critical scrutiny that would allow them to appreciate what it was that they were reading in the most comprehensive manner possible.
- As I looked at the scriptures in preparation for today’s homily, I suddenly found myself temporarily thrown back into my classroom reminding myself of what I had taught my students over and over again. Let me explain.
During the last few weeks, as we approach the end of Church’s liturgical year, all three of our readings have highlighted a central them, namely: as people of God, we need to be on our guard and to prepare ourselves for the time of the Lord’s coming. Ironically, little did we think that we would need to be on guard against the readings themselves! As critical thinkers and people of faith, we need to pay particular attention to what a text says, and perhaps just as importantly to what it doesn’t say. Our first reading from the book of Proverbs is a classic example. We need to prepare ourselves for the fullness of the Lord’s coming because sometimes due to our own prejudice or narrow mindedness we run the risk of missing out on the grace filled opportunities to appreciate God’s creation in its entire splendor.
Let’s take a closer look at what our reading from Proverbs is telling us. It is perhaps a text that many of you have heard on a number of previous occasions. In it, the author sings the praises of the good wife and extols her many virtues.
To some, the woman in question might sound like the ideal of the domestic diva. The husband, who entrusts his heart to her, has an unfailing prize. We are told that she brings him good, and not evil, all the days of her life. She obtains wool and flax and makes cloth with skillful hands. Her value is truly beyond pearls for she plies her fingers at the spindle and reaches out her hands to the poor, and the needy.
Before we make up our mind about the virtues of this wonderful woman, however, let’s not sell her short. If you look closely at the text that was presented for our hearing you will see why the practice of critical thinking challenges us to understand things much more comprehensively.
Perhaps like many readers, you did not take the time to notice that our selection today comes from Proverbs, Book 31, verses10-13; 19-20; and 30-31. Hmmmmm. Obviously some editor chose those verses for inclusion in our lectionary to make a particular point. Taken together, these verses depict a portrait of a wonderful woman, true to her domestic role.
But alas, being the critical thinkers that you are, you just might ask, I wonder what the editor left out? We should not spin our wheels speculating on the editor’s motives, but we should do ourselves the favor of examining the author’s complete text without the omissions. Ah ha! What emerges may surprise you.
It seems that the omitted verses paint a much more comprehensive picture of this woman’s talents and abilities. In addition to her domestic roles she clearly has other entrepreneurial and managerial skills that are well worth noting. For example:
Like merchant ships, she secures her provisions from afar.
|She rises while it is still night, and distributes food to her household.|
|She picks out a field to purchase; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.|
|She is girt about with strength, and sturdy are her arms.|
|She enjoys the success of her dealings; at night her lamp is undimmed.|
|She fears not the snow for her household; all her charges are doubly clothed.|
|She makes her own coverlets; fine linen and purple are her clothing.|
|Her husband is prominent at the city gates as he sits with the elders of the land.|
|She makes garments and sells them, and stocks the merchants with belts.|
|She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs at the days to come.|
|She opens her mouth in wisdom, and on her tongue is kindly counsel.|
|She watches the conduct of her household, and eats not her food in idleness.|
|Her children rise up and praise her; her husband, too, extols her:|
|Many are the women of proven worth, but you have excelled them all.|
Clearly this is a woman who does more than sit at a wheel andspin!
Whenever we have preconceived notions of what we want people to be, it is not surprising that we often shape the evidence to suit our views. Too often, we type-cast others and do not allow them to break out beyond the narrow categories into which we have preordained that they should be. Unfortunately, throughout its history our own Church at times has systemically done this to women. If we are going to avoid running the risk of missing out on the grace filled opportunities and come to appreciate God’s creation in its entire splendor, then we need to be on our guard that this does not happen.
At our last General Congregation in Rome in 1995, the Jesuit order issued a document entitled “ Jesuits and the Situation of Women in Church and Civil Society.”
In its introductory paragraph it stated: “The Society of Jesus is more aware today that the "unjust treatment and exploitation of women" is a "central concern of any contemporary mission which seeks to integrate faith and justice."
Citing the writings of Pope John Paul II, the document called upon "all men and women of goodwill ... to make the essential equality of women a lived reality." Church teaching "promotes the role of women within the family, but we need to remind ourselves that Church teaching also stresses the need for their contribution in the Church and in public life.
The Jesuit document concluded saying "Because we have been part of a civil and ecclesial tradition that has offended against women," we "ask God for the grace of conversion."
Perhaps as we near the end of our liturgical year and seek to prepare ourselves for the Lord’s coming, we might pray for that same grace. Let us examine our own views and preconceptions and root out those ideas and practices that limit or truncate the ways in which we allow others to reach their full potential before God.If you are in the habit of making new year’s resolutions, perhaps that would be a pretty good one with which to begin. AMEN.