Faith United Methodist Church
September 27, 2015
18th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Kristabeth E. Atwood
Scripture: Proverbs 31:10-31, James 3:13-18
Prayer of Illumination:
Lord of all, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds, and in the longing of our hearts, by the wods that we share, and in the thoughts that we form. Through Jesus Christ, the living word, we pray. Amen.
Sermon: The Perfect Partner
Those of you who have a spouse, or are in a committed relationship…. raise your hand if you think you have the perfect partner. Be careful….. some of your partners are sitting next to you! Now, I’m not sure if Gary raised his hand, but if he did he is lying. While we may feel that we’ve found our perfect match, I doubt there are any perfect partners out there.
As described in Psychology Today, “The search for the perfect partner typically focuses upon looking for the perfect person with the ideal desirable traits.” Yet this doesn’t take into account perhaps the most important thing in a relationship, compatibility. As the Psychology Today article explains, relational success depends more on the “…suitability of each partner to the other, and not by whether their isolated qualities are the best in town.” You may think you want to marry someone who is an amazing cook. Maybe the person you are most compatible with is a so-so cook, but just loves bird-watching with you on Saturday mornings. For the sake of relationship we overlook our partners flaws, knowing that they, too, overlook ours.
So if there is no such thing as a perfect partner, why did we read the Scripture for today from Proverbs? The passage begins, “A capable wife, who can find?” I consider myself a feminist, so I admit this passage rankles me a bit. The perfect wife of Proverbs, the “Proverbs Diva,” as some have called her, is a super-woman. She gets up early and goes to bed late. She takes care of the house by cooking and cleaning. She sews clothes for herself and her family. Yet she still finds time to sell her wares in the market and save up enough money to buy a field and plant a vineyard. Her servants are well-taken-care-of and she knows everything that is going on in her household. She even cares for the needy and the poor in her town. She doesn’t worry for the future because she plans so well for each day. She is confident, wise and strong. Her husband looks around at the wives of his friends and says, “You surpass them all!”
When I read this Scripture I feel inadequate, inept, and like the woman in the Scripture must live in a fantasy world. Part of me thinks that if this is what God created women to be, I will never make it and may as well give up now. I’m not particularly domestic. I don’t sew. I like to go to bed early and get up late. And I frequently worry about the future and wonder if I’m doing what I should be doing for today. I don’t recognize myself in this Proverbs Diva at all. As I shared last week, Proverbs comes to us from the wisdom literature of the Bible. Yet I can’t help but question whether this passage is very wise. Anyone (man or woman) who compares themselves to this woman will come up lacking.
But before getting too discouraged I decided to do a little research to see what other people thought of this passage. To start, I went to a “historical” source, a commentary from the 1870’s. I must admit that I got a bit of a chuckle out of this one. “Nothing can add to the simple beauty of this admirable portrait. On the measure of its realization in the daughters of our own day rest untold results, in the domestic… welfare of the people.” Not exactly a feminist interpretation.
A more contemporary source suggested that the description of the woman’s duties in the passage could be likened to the kind of life that women lived on the prairie, or family farm, wife partnered her husband in doing the work of the household and business. Going a step further, Homiletics On-line gave a modern translation to this passage, “She’s wired and searching the web, browsing for financial planners, fitness gurus, make-up artists and clothing designers.” Not exactly a feminist interpretation either!
The most solid and faith filled exploration of this passage that I came across suggests that this Scripture is meant to empower people, especially women, as people of faith. All the litany of tasks that the woman completes in a day is admirable, but the emphasis is on the last lines of the poem, “The woman to be admired and praised is the woman who lives in the Fear-of-God.” Not fear as in being afraid, but fear as in respect. All that the woman did, she did it in light of her commitment to God. Her life of devotion was a reflection of her dedication to God.
We know that the Bible was written in a patriarchal society where women were considered to be property of their fathers and their husbands and had no real status on their own. Today as people of faith we recognize the difference between that time and our time. Yet this poem was written in the praise of a woman who lived her life in faith. Feminism is a word that often rubs people the wrong way. But at it’s core it is simply the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities; political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” The woman in the poem earned money and owned property, an extremely rare (dare we say feminist) occurrence at that time.
Another interesting thing about this passage is that it is an acrostic of the Hebrew alphabet. Each line offers one commendation for every letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This form of poetry was considered a sign of completion, totality. In a day and time when patriarchy dominated, it was significant that a woman was being exalted in such an all-encompassing way. Later, in the New Testament, Jesus invited and involved women in his ministry in ways unimaginable before. Centuries later John Wesley welcomed women as preacher and teachers. In that day and in our day God invites not just men ~ not just women ~ but all people to be connected to the eternal.
As the passage I have struggled with this week reminds us, “The woman (the person) to be admired and praised is the one who lives in the Fear-of-God.” And, as James writes in his New Testament letter, “What of the wisdom from above? First it is pure, then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair and genuine.” Isn’t that what our Proverbs Diva, the wise woman of Proverbs, embodies? A wisdom that can inspire all who seek to love and serve God in wisdom and in truth.
None of us are perfect partners, right? None of us a re perfect partners or perfect individuals. Turn to someone next to you and say, “You’re not perfect and that’s okay.” I refuse to believe that even the woman from Proverbs could have done everything perfectly every day! But perfection is not the goal, is it? The goal is relationship and connection and love and wisdom shared from above and spread around and among God’s people. Turn to someone next to you and say, “God loves you and so do I!” Amen!