A capable wife, who can find?

The 17th Sunday after Pentecost
Year B - Proper 20
Proverbs 31:10-31

Certain readings in the Bible provoke strong reactions because they are at such variance with the way we would normally speak or write about people. I suspect that those who put together the Revised Common Lectionary are wont to avoid the more problematic readings on a Sunday morning.  

I am particularly happy that the first reading this Sunday - Proverbs 31:10-31 - is just such a chewy and “in your face” point of departure for a sermon.  The reading opens with a question:

“A capable wife, who can find?”  NRSV
“Who can find a virtuous woman?”  KJV
“A wife of noble character, who can find?” NIV
““How hard it is to find a capable wife!”  Good News

and immediately proceeds to describe the daily routine of a female dynamo running her household and its cottage industry in a way which gives glory to her husband, evokes praise from her children and merits the admiration of her community.  

That there might be - somewhere in the mind of God - an ideal role for a “wife”, having equal applicability in any generation, might well rub us the wrong way.  We’ve fallen short of traditional ideals before.  Ideal roles often prove to be a cause of suffering for those of us who are more “real” than “ideal”.   Ideals are not always useful because they do not take into account the particular world in which we live.  Herein, perhaps, is our problem with the “perfect wife” of Proverbs 31.  

And yet I am still taken with Proverbs 31 as a song which lauds the merits of one who expresses great “agency” within the particular world in which she lives.  There is almost nothing said about her husband - very little about her children - nothing about her looks or her youth.  The concentration in the passage is on her engagement with the world which surrounds her - her care, her wisdom and her resourcefulness.

There is much to be uncovered in this passage which speaks forcefully to those of us who are not wives or even women - about our immersion in the mainstream of life and in our particular corner of life and our role as a major player in human communities.  It too valuable a reading to dismiss because of its misuse by previous generations.

I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

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