Friday, September 18, 2015

The Good Wife: Reflections on Proverbs 31.10-31 (RCL Proper 25B, 20 September 2015)

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church

         About three years ago or so a television series appeared entitled The Good Wife.  The central character, Alicia, faces an uncertain future when her husband, Peter, is sent to jail after a public scandal involving sex and political corruption.  While her husband serves his time in prison, Alicia returns to her former career as a defense attorney.  In this old but new role Alicia does more than take responsibility for her family; she takes hold of her own future and, in some ways, discovers herself.  One can only wonder what life is like when her husband finishes his sentence.
         I wonder if the creators of this series had Proverbs 31.10-31 in mind when they looked for a title for this series.  There are some differences.  The husband in Proverbs is not, at least as far as we know, a felon and adulterer.  Nor is there any suggestion that the wife is taking total control of the family’s life; she is her husband’s chief asset and all her work goes to secure the good name and the well-being of the family --- his family in the male-centred culture of the time.  But there are also connections.  The word in Hebrew translated as ‘capable’ can mean ‘courageous’ or ‘noble’ or ‘gifted’.  She is described as ‘rare’, not because there are few such wives, but because she is priceless, invaluable, treasured.
         This poem about ‘the good wife’ comes at the very end of Proverbs, a book of the Bible intended to provide young men and rulers with principles for wise behaviour.  By putting this hymn of praise to ‘the good wife’ at the very end of the book, the editor or editors of Proverbs are actually making a not so subtle point:  wise men and wise women are God’s intentions.  Here we see a little crack in male chauvinism.  Wisdom cannot nor should not be understood as a characteristic of one gender to the exclusion of the other.
         This woman’s wisdom is described in very practical terms.  Her skills range from the everyday needs of the household to international shipping and finance.  She has an eye for real estate and her opinion matters.  She understands the importance of first impressions, so her family, whether in winter or summer, in private or in public, wears clothing that announces their status to one and to all.  She is the embodiment of the old saying, more recently revised, that behind every great man is an even greater woman.
         But there is another message within this text that is easy to lose sight of.  The message is this:  all of us have treasures, concrete signs of our labour, our wisdom, our own good fortune and the good fortune of those who have come before us.  The wise person, the truly wise person, understands the importance of the stewardship of these treasures.
         Nowadays we tend to think of treasure solely in the form of money, whether the hard coin in our pockets, the polymer sheets in our wallets or the electronic accounts accessible in various ways.  In some of the earliest Christian texts treasure has a wider meaning and included oil, bread, cheese and other produce raised by the members of the congregation.  I remember visiting my aunt and uncle who live just outside Bristol and being taken to their parish church.  Right next door to the church as a ‘tithe’ barn where the members of the parish, in generations past, would support the ministry of the parish priest by bringing the hard goods, livestock and produce of their lands.  I wonder what that might look like today.
         Four times during the year the Christian tradition sets aside three days for prayer, prayer that focuses on the ministry of the Church.  These ‘Ember Days’, as they are called, were traditional days for ordinations, but I think they have a broader connotation for us today.  They are times for us to focus on the ministry of the whole people of God, ordained and lay, and to consider how we might be more effective and more faithful in the ministries which God has entrusted to each one of us.  One of these special times for prayer and reflection follow the Feast of the Holy Cross which falls on the 14th of September every year.
         On this Sunday following Holy Cross Day, a day when we remember God’s offering up the treasure embodied in Jesus of Nazareth, it’s a useful exercise to ponder what are the things we treasure.  I really do mean the ‘things’ we treasure, the concrete signs of what we value and who we are.  For example, one of the conundrums Paula and I now face is what to do with our books.  We had always intended to give them to Vancouver School of Theology, but the School has recently ‘down-sized’ its library.  Both of us have accumulated a valuable collection of both contemporary and classic resources on theology, liturgy, spirituality, history and biblical studies.  How can we be good stewards of these treasures?  If the School is no longer a place for our treasures, where could they do the greatest good for the people of God?

         What are your treasures?  What are the visible and tangible expressions of who you are and what you value?  Like the good wife of Proverbs, God invites you and me to make wise use of these concrete resources given into our charge.  For we, like she, have a family to care for, the family of God.  May that family, in generations to come, call us blessed and wise.

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