Speak Lord: of women

La reine d'Arles

This Sunday we return to the Ordinary, the numbered, Sundays of the Year. And on this 33rd Sunday of the year the first reading comes from the book of Proverbs, and offers praise of the good woman, the good wife.

A perfect wife – who can find her?

She is far beyond the price of pearls.
Her husband’s heart has confidence in her,
from her he will derive no little profit.
Advantage and not hurt she brings him
all the days of her life.
She is always busy with wool and with flax,
she does her work with eager hands.
She sets her hands to the distaff,
her fingers grasp the spindle.
She holds out her hand to the poor,
she opens her arms to the needy.
Charm is deceitful, and beauty empty;
the woman who is wise is the one to praise.
Give her a share in what her hands have worked for,
and let her works tell her praises at the city gates.

Proverbs 31:10-13,19-20,30-31

In our days of presumed equality between women and men the culture-shock of this ancient passage might evade us. But ours is a time of presumed equality. The reality is different. Patriarchy and the privileging of men continues. Still it is common that women earn less than men for doing the same work. Still there are glass-ceilings in industries that prevent women’s career progress. Still popes and Church speak of the need to help women’s voice to be heard and be effective. Still the media obsess about the age, the clothes of women, their looks, whereas the notable things for the media about men are otherwise.

This passage does see this woman in terms of her role as wife, but this woman also has a relationship with the world that is from herself, and not only from her being wife to her husband. She holds out her hand to the poor, opens her arms to the needy.

It is to her goodness, her virtue, not to her nominal rights as a human being, that we are asked to respond. Maybe her goodness and virtue will put some of us to shame. Perhaps we have privileges, due to gender, class or other ‘accident’ of birth, and maybe they do not lead us to live as well as others who are much more constrained by their circumstances.

  • What is your best quality? Why?
  • How do you tend and nurture it?

Photograph of street art depicting La Reine d’Arles. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

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