September 20, 2012

A Capable Wife

Filed under: Financial Commitment,Lectionary,Legacy,Social Gospel,Time and Talent — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 11:47 am

Proverbs 31:10-31

Wow. No wonder a capable wife is hard to find!

I am in awe of this woman. Her faithful stewardship guarantees the smooth running of the household, the increase of the fields, and the family’s prosperity. Her wisdom, prudence, and labor secure her husband’s standing, his reputation around town. He in turn honors her with his trust and praise. The sub-text of love and regard, of respect and partnership, is palpable. They each in their own way lift up the other.

But for as much as I admire the capable wife, there’s a part of me that says, “Wait a minute….” This passage seems to have a tone of worldly success, of social and economic status that feels at odds with how we normally talk about wealth in Scripture and Tradition.

It doesn’t make sense to me that today we hear praise for the capable wife, yet in just three weeks we will hear Jesus instruct the rich young man that he must go and sell all that he has and give the money to the poor if he is to truly inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.

I was pondering this dichotomy while driving home from a meeting last Sunday, listening to, of all things, Marketplace Money. Tess Vigeland was presenting the third in her series on religion and money, talking with an orthodox rabbi and a young married couple from his congregation.[i] I was happily driving along, listening with some interest, when the rabbi said, “It shouldn’t come as a surprise at all to anyone who has dabbled in Jewish ideas that there are conflicting teachings (on how one should manage one’s money).”

He went on:

On the one hand, Judaism encourages frugality from the perspective that we don’t take our riches with us. Life is not about amassing wealth but about amassing meaning, and things and objects aren’t worth nearly what we think they are. And at the same time, from its inception, Judaism has been an anti-ascetic tradition….

…we’re supposed to enjoy all the bounty that God has given us and that includes enjoying some of the wonderful things about the modern world, while at the same time putting proper value on them.

Judaism speaks to both sides of that. The key is not to take it too far in either direction. Religion is there to comfort the uncomfortable and discomfort the overly-comfortable.

Now it all makes sense!

The capable wife is praiseworthy not just for what she does, but for how she does it, and why. She is admired for hands that are strong, hands that provide, that are open to the poor, that reach out to the needy. She distinguishes herself as a woman of strength and dignity, wisdom and kindness. She is honored for her works, not her worldly charm or beauty.

By contrast, the rich young man has erred in being overly-comfortable. While Jesus’ words ring true in a literal sense, they also serve as a warning, a call to balance in both the right and careful use of God’s abundance and the joy of being shareholders in all creation.

The second thing that caught my ear in this discussion was that the participants were describing a way of being in the world for which one might simply substitute “baptismal covenant” for “Judaism.” To paraphrase the young husband,

(The baptismal covenant) is something that, when done properly, infiltrates every aspect of your life. In my opinion it’s most enjoyable when you let it seep into every area of your life.”

And therein lies the key….

I don’t get the feeling when I read this passage that the capable wife is living a life of drudgery, trying to keep up with the constant demands of cleaning and cooking, working in the garden and keeping the livestock healthy, grocery shopping and making clothes, getting everything off to the market and making sure she comes back with some money and her supplies for the week…all while having babies and raising children.

Not at all! To my ears, this passage has a rhythm of calm, a feeling of content, a sense of vocation. It is clear from both what is said and what is implied that the capable wife attends to the rituals of worship, Sabbath time, and renewal. She is attuned to resisting evil and turning away from sin. Her actions speak of her love for all God’s children, of her hope for bringing justice, peace, and dignity into her sphere.

In this passage I hear an invitation that I now share with you: I invite you to reflect on how your stewardship of abundance “amasses meaning.” I invite you to appreciate how the mission and ministry of this congregation, in this community, speak of your love for God’s people, of your hope for justice, peace, and dignity. I invite you to enjoy all the bounty that God has given you, and let your baptism seep into every part of your life.

And in this journey that we take together as people of faith, I bid you peace, and wish you joy.



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