Visit our new site at

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings-- Capable and Wise Edition

Jesus Welcomes the Children
The RCL readings for this week (Proper 20B, 17th After Pentecost) can be found here.

So we have the Proverbial (literally) description of a capable woman  Although she is assumed to be a wife and not simply a capable woman in her own right, as I quickly read through those verses I have to wonder if the husband is really needed for this woman? I also wonder what our current descriptors of "capable" (for either gender) would be and how our list would match this one.

Looking at the rest of the passages, it appears that being wise is tied to being capable.   Even if that draws us into the upside-down wisdom of the kingdom, or the wisdom "from above".  Which then begs the question of what does it mean to be wise?????

I can relate...
That seems like too many heavy questions for this early in the week.  Time to pause and pray...
God, in the midst of the busy-ness of the world we take a break to rest, to reflect, to re-energize.
In a world where all to often we feel inadequate or in over our heads, we wonder what it means to be capable,
In a world where there are so many voices claiming to share wisdom, we wonder how to recognize what is truly wise,
In a world which repeatedly tells us we have to try to be first and greatest we wonder what it means to be last and least.
As we work our way through this week,  open our eyes and ears that we would see and hear the world as you do.  Open our minds and souls that we would be ready to be transformed by your wisdom.  And when we feel wholly uncapable, remind us that we do not need to get it all right, but that with your help we can get the important stuff right.
These things we pray, trusting that we are not alone.  AMEN.


  1. A gift for those of you working on this text, my translation from Daughters of Miriam:

    Proverbs 31:1 The words of King Lemuel:
    An oracle with which his mother instructed him -
    2 What my son! Son of my womb, son of my vows.
    3 Do not give to women your warrior’s strength,
    nor your ways to women who destroy kings.
    4 Not for kings, Lemuel, not for kings is wine-drinking or for rulers, strong drink.
    5 Lest one drink and forget established decrees
    and pervert the judgment for all the oppressed.
    6 Give strong drink to one who is perishing
    and wine to those whose souls are embittered.
    7 Let them drink and forget their poverty and never again remember their trouble.
    8 Open your mouth for the voiceless and all who are children of passing away.
    9 Open your mouth; judge righteously and defend the oppressed and poor.
    10 A woman of warrior strength, who can find? Her value is far above jewels.
    11 The heart of her lord trusts in her and he will have no lack of war-spoil.
    12 She rewards him with good and not evil all the days of his life.
    13 She seeks wool and flax and works with de¬lighted hand.
    14 She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from far away.
    15 She rises late at night and gives prey to her household
    and instruction for her gir1s.
    16 She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
    17 She dresses herself with strength and strength¬ens her arms.
    18 She tastes her merchandise - it is good.
    19 She puts her hands to the distaff and her hands to the spindle.
    20 She spreads out her hands to the oppressed and sends her hands to the poor.
    21 She does not fear for her house when it snows;
    for all her household is clothed in scarlet.
    22 She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple.
    23 Her lord is known in the city gates, when he sits with the elders of the land.
    24 She makes linen garments and sells them
    and she supplies the Canaanites with sashes.
    25 Strength and splendor are her clothing and she laughs at the time to come.
    26 She opens her mouth with wisdom and the
    Torah of covenant faithfulness is on her tongue.
    27 She keeps watch over the ways of her house¬
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
    28 Her children rise up and bless her; her lord praises her:
    29 The daughters of many demonstrate warrior strength, but you surpass them all.
    30 Favor is deceitful and beauty is a vapor,
    but a woman who fears YHWH, she is to be praised.
    31 Give her a share in the fruit of her hands
    and let her works praise her in the city gates.

  2. And the commentary:

    The words attributed to King Lemuel in Proverbs 31 are not his words at all, according to the most literal reading of the introductory verse. They are the words of an oracle, masa’ with which his mother instructed him, yissratu. As an oracle-shaper the King’s unnamed mother is a prophet. Oracle formulation and proclamation are key technical expressions of prophecy in ancient Israel and the Ancient Near East. She is in the company of Nahum and Habakkuk who envision oracles. Isaiah also sees oracles, some fourteen times. Jeremiah uses the form twelve times. In addition, Ezekiel, Hosea, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zechariah, and Malachi perform oracular prophecy. The royal mother’s role as an oracle-shaper also reifies the wisdom portrayal of the mothers and fathers who teach their children together, in Proverbs 1:8 and 6:20, and calls to mind disciple-making prophets like Deborah, Elijah, Isaiah and Noadiah. Her proficiency as a teacher parallels the Targumic traditions of Huldah’s proficiency as a teacher. But this anonymous prophet teaches her son in a way that has few human analogies. In thirty-seven of the forty-one occurrences of the verb y-s-r, God is the agent, rather than a human person.
    The substance of her prophetic discourse in Proverbs 31 is that her son should not waste his warrior’s strength, chayil, on king-destroying women, but that he should find an eshet chayil, a woman whose warrior strength matches his own. Her oracle also includes substantial teaching on social justice issues that characterized the latter prophets and the Torah that they preserve and pass on. She calls for her son to be moderate in his consumption of alcohol so that his decrees on behalf of the oppressed will be clear-headed and just. She is not necessarily a teetotaler; she recognized the self-medicating value of wine for the suffering. She commands her son to speak on behalf of the voiceless and transient, to open his mouth and judge righteously on behalf of the poor and oppressed. Instructions for choosing a suitable marriage partner follow moral exhortations. While the context of the oracle is prenuptial counsel, ba‘al is “lord,” or “master” indicating a particular hierarchy; the generic ish, “man” or contextually, “husband,” is not used in verses 11 and 28.
    The woman who is a suitable partner for the warrior-king should be a warrior who brings home the spoils of war (shalal), as in verse 11. The reference to spoil re-sulting from a military campaign is in keeping with the martial aspect of chayil, but is unfortunately frequently mistranslated as mere “food” in verse 11. She should also be a hunter who can take her own prey. In verse 15 tereph means “prey” and is usually provided by wild animals for their young; this word too is frequently mistranslated as “food.” Again, according to verse 17, she should be prepared to go to war at a moment’s notice: the activity of ‘strengthening one’s arms’ is a martial one; it is preparatory for combat or hunting.
    King Lemuel’s unnamed mother ends her oracle with a reminder that the daughters of many may demonstrate warrior strength, but that rare woman who fears YHWH is to be praised. The prophet is describing her desired daughter-in-law, but I think she is also describing herself. “Give her a share in the fruit of her hands and let her works praise her in the city gates.”

    1. Thanks for this translation and explanation! I am planning to preach on this, and though I will be starting out playfully--by chance, my husband will be the lector reading it!-- I want to dig into it with some seriousness.

  3. I'm actually not preaching on the Proverbs passage, since I did it last year. I'm more interested in juxtaposing the tension and ambition and greed decried in James with the open-heartedness of the child whom Jesus names as the welcomed one. In this time of uncivil discourse, it seems like something that needs highlighting. We shall see how it evolves.

  4. Just want to say, in that translation, Proverbs 31 *really* preaches! Thanks, Wil. I've used it more than once since reading your book for the 2009 Big Event.
    That said, I'm updating a sermon on Mark and hoping to fold in some elements of James after getting a very positive reaction to the inclusion of James this past Sunday. The sermon had an effective illustration about not putting yourself ahead of others, even when your perceived position would make that seem like a no-brainer. It worked well in another setting, but I think it could use a little James in this church.

  5. I am continuing in my exploration of James with a reading of Chapter 4. The sermonic launching point for me is verse 10 ""Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you". What does it mean to humble yourself? And how does doing that open us up to an alternative wisdom?

    But if I were doing Proverbs I would be tempted to give the lay reader that translation Wil.

    1. Mountain Sunday, week 4 of the Season of Creation. I wasn't sure the Creation Season would go, but it has fine, except that most of my regular resources are RCL, so a little more digging required than usual.
      I am thinking of asking the congregation which mountains come to mind from the Bible - which means I need to ahve a reasonable idea myself of at least some of them.

  6. I am doing both proverbs and gospel. I am planning to read the proverbs passage and now i am even more fired up! Thanks for the insights, Wil!

  7. Agreed - Wil Gafney, that translation is excellent. Brings a whole new aspect to the text. Thank you for your exposition, as well!!

  8. my comment ended up as a reply, don't know why

  9. I have preached this at matriarchs' funerals...and have been astonished at how few people recognize the passage at all. "THAT is in the BIBLE? Really?"... I remember too the delight of members of the Order of the Purple (Lady Elks, i.e.) that purple is named therein:"it's about US!" they said.

  10. I am preaching Proverbs and James. I have a draft of the sermon, but not on my blog yet. If anyone wants to see it and give feedback, my email is

    What I'm seeking still is a list of the things we fear. I have the obvious ones--other religions, terrorists, bird flu, snakes, etc. Others?

    Thanks for the translation. It is great.

    1. Spiders, the dark, scary clowns, death. Not necessarily in that order...

    2. I am preaching the gospel text and trying to think of who are the lowly, not only in our society, but also in our own circle. We automatically think of the homeless and addicts who are not part of the circle of my own congregation. We can easily think of them as "them". I am curious about who are the lowly, within our own communities. I have come up with those who are grieving, those who are depressed. They are lowly and we mostly exclude them. We feel sorry for them, might offer some care, but mostly we want them to go away until they are "better". I think, in response to the above question, that we actually fear those who are in those situations. Those are the ones in my community who Jesus would welcome, those that we keep on the fringes so we don't have to engage.

  11. Starting stewardship season here. Our diocese has a history of "Father Knows Best" from Bishop and Clergy, so we're giving the laity a voice for the next 6 weeks. This weekend, someone will stand up and say 5 minutes about stewardship and what it means to them, then I will follow with a 5 minute tie-in to Proverbs. I will turn it a bit so that the wife is the Bride of Christ = Church. Also interesting that this week we have the fragment of papyrus mentioning that people believed Christ may have had a real wife.

    1. Ooo, Amy, good connection there. I've seen the headlines, but I"m going to read about that bride of Christ thing, now.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. If anyone is focussing on "who is the greatest" I thought you might be interested in this story about the guy giving out 4th place medals this summer at the Olympics:


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.