Visit our new site at

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings

Proper 20, Year B
If there were a list of "scriptures I would never preach," Proverbs 31 would be on that list.

I suppose I really have never heard Proverbs 31 preached, anyway. I have heard it time and time again in two different venues: every year on Mother's Day and then at funerals (mostly of grandmotherly types). I have heard it read, always from the King James Version (because it's traditional) but never really preached.

After several years of hearing it read in worship on Mother's Day in either a stenorous or sappy voice, I tuned it out. Then it started to rub me the wrong way, rather like this article which makes the rounds on the internet quite often. (Click on the picture to read the full article.)

However, I heard this with fresh ears at a funeral recently that I participated in with Joanna Adams. I hadn't the foggiest idea who she was at the time, but hearing a woman read this, gracefully and well, from something other than KJV was ear and eye opening.

I was listening and it struck me -- this passage is more about the nature of wisdom than the oppression of women. When read with the other lections this week, it becomes clearer and more vivid.

Last week the lectionary included Proverbs 1 which starts with a description of "wisdom crying in the streets and in the square she raises her voice." Wisdom is a woman! When searching for that "perfect wife" what humankind should be looking for is wisdom -- wisdom that is more precious than jewels, that buys and provides nourishment for her family, that girds herself with strength, that works long and hard for the necessities of life, that reaches out to the poor and the needy.

How else can we read this passage? How else the idea of wisdom be seen?


  1. Wow, what a great insight! I have also heard the Proverbs 31 passage on too many mother's days. But to see it as descriptions of wisdom...I'm going to have to go and read the passage again.

  2. You just gave me an "Aha!" moment!

    Yeah...whenever I've read that lesson in the past it always brought to mind that Aviance perfume commercial from the 70's about "I can bring home the bacon...fry it up in the pan...but then in the evening I won't let you forget you're a man...," blah-blah-blah. I guess that was supposed to be cutting-edge women's-lib talk or somefin'.

  3. I know this isn't the point of the post, but your picture link reminded me of a similar book my husband gave me as a joke right before we got married. We laughed hysterically over the euphemisms for sex.

  4. I had the chance to see Proverbs 31 from a different direction in a feminst interpretation of the bible class in seminary. I do have to say, though, that if we're going to be up in arms about that 1950s housewife description and the previous uses of Proverbs 31 then we should also use inclusive words like humankind insstead of mankind.

  5. Thanks, I'll change that.
    Gender inclusive language comes naturally to me when I'm at school but it's not in the lexicon of my ministry setting.

  6. Feeling ugh today--not sure if it's the weather or an incipient cold...

    Still off-lectionary, Daniel and the lions' den this Sunday. Daniel, in exile, was still faithful to his God--worshiping and praying to the One he trusted, even in the midst of danger, and God, in turn, was faithful to him.

    What are the lions we fear? Are we faithful to God even when "laws" (custom, habit, our neighbors) want to keep us from trusting God and from worship and prayer?

    Not preaching foaming evangelism here, just the need to be faithful to the God who is faithful to us, even when we are in exile and/or danger.

    Time for more hot tea and soda crackers...

  7. I have a friend who tries to live by Prov. 31.... to be "a Proverbs 31 woman." In fact, in her social circle (which would be mine, too, except that I moved away), the penultimate expression of Godliness and womanliness is Prov. 31.

    ...I'm pretty relieved to hear someone knock the passage, because I've always felt a little inadequate in the skills department when I read it. I WANT to be all manner of good things to my husband and child... I just don't hear the kind of skills I have honored or mentioned in that passage. Instead, I really struggle to live up to "goes about her work vigorously," "gets up while it is still dark," "works," "clothes," "extends" "provides" -- ad infinitum.

    There is one sentence I have always loved here, though.... "She is clothed in strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come."

    I'm living in a season of deep disappointment and sadness even now, so I love the thought of laughing freely in "days to come." I also like the idea of laughing AT what is to come -- new hardships and all. I really respond to the qualities of the clothing and the cultivating of laughter. There's where I find my wisdom, anyway....

  8. This is a bit off-topic, but here is a book that will forever change your view of the Proverbs 31 woman. It was published in 1981--and don't let the title put you off. The publisher changed Pat's original title in order to make it sound a bit like the book it was meant to rebuff ("The Total Woman"). Anyway, here is a link to some very low-priced copies. A GREAT BOOK, as is anything Patricia Gundry writes, IMO.

  9. What a nice post on Proverbs 31 and wisdom.

    I am preaching on the Mark passage. Still putting together thoughts for the sermon.

    I sort of did an outline.
    Titled it I'm better than you are.

    i did want to say something about the churches that want to be great will need to be welcoming, last not first, and servants of all.

    Thanks reverend mommy

  10. I forgot, the title is "The Complete Woman."

  11. My Mom had this schtick where she'd quote the part about, "She getteth up while it is yet dark and setteth tasks for her maidens...", Then she'd look around quickly as if searching for these maidservants and, of course not finding them, she'd say "Whew! No maidens. Guess I and sleep in!"

  12. As my husband tells his seminary students every year, if you want to set this as a standard for a "real" wife, even if she could be all this, when would she even be awake enough for a healthy sex life? At which point, the women students always laugh a lot harder than the men!

    I say, good point, dear!

    I add: as soon as I find and read about the Prov. "32" man, I'll worry about being the Prov. "31" woman.

    Wisdom is where we find a home on this too.

  13. Wisdom is female (us) in her best form. A needed person in our society today, and that means the home which is the cradle of society.

    Wisdom includes discernment, and having perception...looking ahead at results. Being diplomatic is another part of wisdom.

    It seems to me that all these things are needed to run a happy home....but whether society is ready for this kind of female wisdom in the world, I don't know. I would hope so by now!

    The home brings it's results into society. If women ran the home would it be a different kind of world? Something to explore, or offer for exploration.

    I thoroughly believe that the key is a good partnership, if one is not alone, ..... that is what makes the best kind of home.

    Wisdom is love working itself out.

    I am happy to know this passage is being given new and deeper meanings. I would like to be a "fly" on the wall to hear the Word for wisdom (women) this week.

    Free Flying Spirit

  14. I commented earlier but blogger ate it (or something)

    blessing you preachers ... more ah ha moments are good for all of us

  15. Actually, in the culture of that time, would this not have been a most complimentary passage about a woman? Instead of settling on the idea that this is actually about wisdom (if I have understood correctly), why not make an attempt to redefine the modern wife of noble character? :)

  16. Okay I seem to as usual be swimming in the wrong direction.

    But as far as the Mark passage goes. Barbara Brown Taylor has a sermon called "Last of All" in "Bread of Angels" (Boston: Cowley Press, 1997),on pp. 131-135.
    She starts by talking about Jesus thing for kids. Then how children were treated back then, Then goes on to say if you want to spend time with God get on the floor with a little one. She calls this lesson of Jesus one more of his "topsy-turvy Kingdom lessons." She goes onto talk about the different hierarchies we have as adults. Jesus idea of hierarchies is so different than our cultures world view of heirarchies.

    Just thought I add that one. So while you all are preaching about wisdom, I am going to be preaching about children and hiearchies.

  17. your post felt like an embrace. thanks so much for that insight.

  18. I have found it very useful to dig out the concordance and find the meanings of words and phrases unpacked. A Worthy Woman is one such: the original Hebrew reads Eschet Chayil. One of the translations of this phrase is Woman of Valour.

    Even with the "Leave it to Beaver" sensibility of the rest of Proverbs 31, this translation puts a very different spin on womanhood.

  19. Sue, from a pastoral perspective, I think the trouble with the approach you suggest is that there is no model given for a woman to be noble except as a wife. For a variety of reasons, some women never have been nor will be wives. Is it impossible for them to be noble or faithful? This passage has been preached hurtfully in too many contexts, and you hear that in the comments above. So while I think there are many interpretive cases to be made for the passage, and I have preached it in the past, I think it's necessary to triangulate against the text with the congregation rather than partnering with the text in a way that diminishes women who do not meet the definition of "wife." I'm more concerned about helping people contemplate what makes a noble and holy relationship than what is the ideal for one particular role. It's limiting, when my aim in preaching is to open the word, not close it.
    This is clearly a touchy text for a lot of us, as this is an unusually long discussion for the first day of posting! Keep it coming!

  20. p_m_p, I'm just seeing your comment. I used that translation the last time I preached this. It does give a different angle, and that's where I went.

  21. So I'm preaching only my third sermon this Sunday and this is one of the texts. I've joked that I was going to preach to the old ladies at the 8:30 service about how hard it was for me to find my own "good wife", but really, it's because this text just makes me squirm. Thanks for making it less so. I might just be able to mention it. "Woman of Valour" INDEED! I might need my Wonder Woman Pez dispenser as a prop.

  22. I wonder what the Message does with the text?

    She shops around for the best yarns and cottons,
    and enjoys knitting and sewing.

    Hmm.... sounds like Songbird and Cathy.

    She senses the worth of her work,
    is in no hurry to call it quits for the day.

    Now this is interesting. I wonder how many people really sense the worth of their work?

    I'm also contemplating how God's kingdom is also called the "household of God" -- and if we can use this to understand our value within this household. (It's not called the "Corporation of God, Inc" and we are not called to be CEO's for God. How can we understand what the wife's position to be?)

  23. Thanks ReverendMommy--I'm going to have to go dig up the message text because that is really helpful.

    But I think I'm going to preach on the Mark passage because it hit me really hard. I have two little kids and people SAY they are welcoming but don't want to deal with the mess that comes with. If you welcome me and my kids you welcome me nursing in front of you bc my baby is welcome my preschooler asking me questions and welcome crumbs in the pews and poop and all kinds of unwelcome things, not just precious little children well-dressed and gathered around Jesus in soft-focused light.

    Erm, do you think I need to soften that a bit? ;)

  24. Not for young mothers you don't, chickpastor! Or for people who remember being in that place.

  25. Preach it chick pastor- we are far too uncofortable with messy humanity- be that babies and small children or hoody wearing hormonal teens....
    being inclusive stretches our comfort zones, too often we hve our "pet" projects or causes to include, and forget that we become exclusive in our inclusiveness...

  26. chickpastor, you should take that message on the road. I know of several congregations that need to hear it.

  27. I'd be careful the use of the idea of corporation, there have been serious documentaries on corporations and how they are exploiting us in so many ways.

    Perhaps an exploration between a 'right', meaning 'whole', as in becoming whole..corporations and the business ones that are out to make money at any cost...might be a thing to look into BUT maybe not here.

    Our Church is a Corporation which I support but corporation is becoming a word that is very negative.

    It doesn't have to be with us.

    Just a word of caution...that's all.


You don't want to comment here; instead, come visit our new blog, We'll see you there!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.