When women are talked about in relation to the bible, the proverb we heard read this morning out of the Book of Proverbs (31.10-31) is generally trotted out as being the biblical description of the perfect female and wife. Times have changed, and with it the expectations of what a woman should be. However, there are some truths still in this old wise saying and they apply equally to men as to women.
She laughs at the time to come, it says at verse 25. Very few of us do that. Most of us are obsessed with the problems that lie in wait for us around the corner. Even the best struggle with a kind of doomed equanimity, if you know what I mean. The rest of us give in to worry and apprehension about what kind of world our children will inherit or, if you live in Venezuela, what kind of country we are going to have next week, next month and next year. Will companies continue to go bankrupt, will foreigners and their investment continue to withdraw, will inflation continue to increase and push prices of basic foods still higher?
I don’t have to stop there because there are plenty more questions waiting for an answer, questions of security and monetary exchange, of human rights and shortages. We are anxious too about the state of the world we live in, of terrorism and whether it is safe to fly … if the Middle Eastern quarrel will escalate into some wider conflict that will put us at risk? We are concerned about Africa and its wars, and the spread of AIDS and HIV. In Botswana 40% of the total population is infected with HIV, men, women and children. Could that happen here?
Just as Proverbs is saying that the woman should get on with today and see that it is so good she doesn’t need to concern herself about the future, so also today does the onus lie upon Christians of both sexes to make the difference. For when the difference is made to the problems of our world, the future is well able to take care of itself. I think we have heard Jesus say this. When the old men sat down by the town gates of Israel long ago, and dreamed up these pithy wise sayings, they never believed that the ideal woman would be replicated, and Jesus knew enough about human nature to know that we were unlikely to achieve a worry free future … but unless we strive for the highest of ideals we shall not come within miles of it.
We have to want it, if we are to work for it. It has to be part of us, part of our very being to establish what is right and good and just and honest in our personal sphere of influence.
It isn’t good enough to say, oh well, this is what everyone else does, and we might lose out if we don’t do the same. We have to be better than that. We have to say, if it is wrong in the eyes of Christ then I can’t do it. That is why being a Christian is usually harder than just following the ordinary ways of the local society that we happen to find ourselves living in.
The Christian ideals are higher and the expectation to justice and peace are also much stricter. Although we usually slip into half measures, it is not what our faith requires. We might say that our faith demands only the best and highest kind of behavior.
Demand is not a popular word today. Demand is associated with big brother and oppression but in Christianity the demand factor of faith is to free us from the persistent and wearing demands of the world that stunt our growth as God’s creatures.
We find nowadays that rights is a big issue, human rights, and personal rights. Less is said about duties. Christians have fought and died for people’s rights to be maintained or even for them to be gained at all. We do have rights, but it may not extend to the point of near anarchy when no one else’s rights have any currency. We don’t have rights to do what we like, whenever we want, because that would almost certainly infringe the rights of others. Here we have duties to see that others are cared for, the environment is protected and justice is maintained. Another person’s rights may turn out to be our duties.
The capable wife, according to Proverbs displays her daily duty through the way she speaks, opening her mouth with wisdom and the teaching of kindness on her tongue. We can see in the Letter of James how the author, probably Jesus brother, notes how the power of the tongue can work for good or ill.
It is not an uncommon theme of the Christian scriptures … we live at a time where many feel compelled to speak on every topic and on every occasion, politicians are not the only ones to fall into this trap. Because so much of what is said is not built on reason or knowledge or true understanding, it results in parental-style statements that err towards the slanderous. Our public courts are overcrowded with private petitions against those who have slandered them in what was probably a set of ill-considered and hasty set of remarks. No doubt they pay heavily for their mistakes, but in a way the damage has already been done, not only to the one slandered, but to the one who made the remark in the first place.
Christ would tell us that, if we cannot manage our tongue, then we are damaged and we need healing, just as much as the person we may have damaged with our words. It is a long a slow road to recovery for both.
Our tongues are a good indicator of what conditions prevail in our hearts and whether it is peaceful or stormy. We should ask ourselves: are we constantly giving forecasts of more hurricanes so that our listeners know that someone or some group of people are in for a lashing in which a fair bit of damage is going to be inflicted?
And who, may I ask will be responsible to pay for all this damage or will it be left, a dilapidated place unguarded and unloved where the weeds of dereliction grow?
As Christians, let us become trained and versed in giving fair weather forecasts, turning the tides of argument to harmless beaches of peace and tranquility and quashing the rumors of ill will by accurate predictions of how to avert the storms.
More precious than jewels is the capable wife to Proverbs and more precious still is the capable and good Christian person to the troubled world in which we live.