St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church
Diocese of New Westminster
Anglican Church of Canada
Wednesday 7:00 pm
Thursday 2:00 pm
September 23rd Pentecost 18, 2018 John Marsh
Proverbs 31:10-31; Psalm 1; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37
Today’s Proverb’s passage is an expression of conventional wisdom, a wisdom shoring not disturbing the status quo…
A capable wife who can find?
She’s hard to find because she is working very hard – she is working everywhere (verses 14, 16) on everything (verses 15a, 16, 18a, 19, 24a) for everybody (verses 12, 15b, 20, 21b, 24b, 27a) from dawn (15a) to dusk (18b).
And to be honest, anyone compelled to live such a life may find themselves reduced, restricted, truncated, if not broken, by such living.
Human life is not amenable to living roles largely, if not solely, determined by others’ expectations; such living does not well up from the depths of the heart in a manner that honours the fullness of human identity.
That the text does not imagine a woman who is unmarried, not defined by her relationship to a man is seriously problematic and expressive of power dynamics that, along with its inherent violence, ultimately harms everyone.
To be frank, the wife spoken of in the Proverbs passage is an idealized projection from a patriarchal perspective.
However, first impressions can be misleading.
Voicing an alternative reading, we should notice what the text doesn’t say about a ‘wife’s’ worth.
First, it does not say that her worth is derived from her husband’s. While a wife, she is also her own woman; while a wife, her virtue is not found in her submissive behaviour. Her virtue, her worth is a result of her own agency. She pursues her own work; she is not presented as shy or deferential but rather as purposeful if not headstrong.
Second, the text says nothing about pregnancy or childbirth, often key credentials in the ancient world, if not ours; motherhood is not valorised and her children, mentioned only in verse 28, are not held up as the primary source of her identity or virtue. She is a mother but more importantly she is a woman who is generative: she seeks, rises, buys, provides, creates and is compassionate and generous.
Third, the text says nothing about her appearance or physical appeal. Whether she has ‘younger looking skin’ or fits into size two dresses we will never know. This woman is praised for the content of her character as opposed to the content of her undergarments, for the excellence of her work and not her beauty.
And so, while the text is not without serious problems, problems too great for some to get beyond, a closer reading offers glimpses of another identity lurking in the background - the spirit of one untamed.¹
You can attempt to bend her to your will, but her spirit is unbroken.
You can force her into roles not defined by her but, in the end, she will express herself; she will fill the cracks and crevices of your social constructions and eventually, inevitably, destabilize your world.
The text, garbed as it is in patriarchal clothing, points to one unexpectedly expressing a human life - fully lived…
Who is she?
She is an idealised presentation of holy wisdom. She is not any woman (after all, she is too good to be an actual person); she is Sophia – wisdom.
She is a mythic presentation of one living fully alive, embodying the glory of god.
…a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised…let her works praise her in the city. (Proverbs 31:30b, 31b)
As a mythic presentation, as holy wisdom, she is an exemplar of human life for both men and women.
As a mythic presentation of sapiential life, she illumines living as one engaged, involved with the fullness of life within the world. Hers is not a life truncated but one which is generative - open to the full spectrum of relationships with family, friends and colleagues, expressive of the depth of heart and the breadth of mind.
As holy wisdom, she opens to life’s possibilities, growing in awareness and understanding, expanding the horizons of one’s life and the knowledge of one’s world.
As holy wisdom, she is the spirit of divinity birthing humanity anew – male and female she is creating them. (C.f. Genesis 1:27)
And among Sophia’s creations, among her many children, there is one, a unique one named Yeshua - Jesus.
When ‘wisdom’s child’ opens to his unique embodiment of being fully human to the point of divinity, he invites others to embrace the spirit of divinity, to embrace holy wisdom, to participate in the birthing of a new humanity, a new way he named as the reign of god.
We embody this reign if we seek to be generative in our living, if we ask further relevant questions, daring irrelevant questions, perhaps irrelevant only in their inconvenience, seeking a knowing birthed from unknowing, seeking to be engaged with our life, living both within ourselves and beyond ourselves...
‘The Human One is to be betrayed…and they will kill him.’ (Mark 9:31)
When ‘wisdom’s child’, when Yeshua, Jesus teaches that the powers will push back, we’re confused - we resist…
When the ‘Human One’, when wisdom’s child, when Yeshua teaches of resistance and rejection by the powers, our confusion grows, and we sense threats of chaos opening within and around us; it’s as if our soul cries out “this makes no sense”.
When the ‘Human One’ speaks of life from death, of success from failure, of strength in weakness, our confusion silences our questions and deflects our quest for life and we settle for the more secure and predictable existence of success, rank and status.
‘…they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. Then they came to Capernaum; and…he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent for they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.
That the disciples did not understand Jesus, that they could not get what Jesus was teaching, that they were confused about the nature of god’s reign, that they were bewildered by the movement of holy wisdom in their midst, is not the issue.
The issue is fear.
It’s because of their fear - fear of appearing uninformed, of revealing their ignorance, of being found wanting – that the disciples avoid asking the hard questions or, in fact, any questions. They avoid the onset of conversations that could carry forward their understanding, their coming to sight, their growth into embodying a fuller humanity.²
If they had dared the question they could have asked:
How can success come from failure?
How can life come from death?
How can loving an enemy serve ‘new life’?
How can being last and servant of all change anything?
How can welcoming the least, the vulnerable and the powerless change the powers?
How can serving the expendable and the weak and rejecting dominating power bring in the messianic kingdom?
The disciples avoided the quest within the question, settling for posturing about who is right!
They avoided the struggle of growth and settled for the stasis of conventional religious duty and obedience.
They resisted the generative movement of holy wisdom.
They became obstacles to incarnating the reign of god unfolding in their midst.
They settled for being less than they could be, much less than the world needed them to be.
And so now a question emerges –
What does the world need us to be?
For what do we settle?
What do we avoid?
What do we resist?
¹ It should be noted that the passage is also problematic in its inability to imagine a relationship other than heterosexual.
² Closely connected to not asking a question is following orders without question. Some of the most heinous crimes against humanity have been done in the name of ‘following orders’. It seems that to not ask the question in your midst is to deflect the movement of the spirit and potentially to be at risk of inhumanity.