When my husband James and I had just been married, the first book of the Bible we read together was Proverbs – we figured we needed some grounded, down-to-earth wisdom to be able to live together. We were doing great, until one chapter reduced me to tears. It was Proverbs 31, and reading it, I felt inferior, overwhelmed and downright oppressed by ridiculous expectations. I was never going to be this person – this beautiful, composed, business woman who is up from dawn till dusk feeding exotic food to her family and making her own clothes while she gracefully socialises with the whole town and ends poverty while she runs a Lincraft with all her woven linen. Poor old James had to reassure me that he didn’t require me to plant a vineyard or make our clothes, or even cook. We resolved to just love each other, and occasionally when I did something a bit domestic he would cheer me on, by saying “Proverbs 31 wife!”
When we come to Proverbs 31, some scholars have seen this amazing picture of a woman who is wise, and said “this is like a bookend – we opened the first section of Proverbs with Lady Wisdom, and here she is, back again! She’s a mythical being, showing what it feels like to have wisdom as your companion!” That’s one way to look at this, but I don’t actually think she is fictional, a metaphor or a model for women.
I think this woman is real. And I think I know her.
She is every woman. She is certainly every woman in this congregation. Because most of the time, the things that are done in the background are not credited, but it takes courage to do them. This passage is a poem written by a mother - the mother of the king. She is teaching him to pay attention and praise his wife. Loads of mothers like her have done a thousand unnoticed tasks, dodged curveballs, planned contingencies, gotten up before everyone else to get them out the house and stayed up a bit longer to get things done in peace. And for those of us not with children, not married and let’s face it, all of us regardless of gender – we all need to be recognised for the stuff that just gets done because it needs to get done. We all need to know that at some point, we are not taken for granted, but the grit and courage that we use to serve others and make a better world is worthy of praise.
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