Here are the Lectionary passages for Proper 20, Year B
Confession: I can’t stand Proverbs 31. And I hate it when following the Lectionary forces me to confront passages I despise because they have been used to wound and abuse me, to cage me and confine my life and my possibilities. I hate it that the scriptures even have to be ambiguous enough that they can be misused in this way. But there it is again. One person’s torture instrument is another person’s lifeline.
And I get it. I get that it was written in a time in history when to even mention a woman in a positive way was something, to even notice her in any way beyond an object of property or sexual desire or childbearing possibility was a wonder. To suggest that a woman might become, through hard work and constant effort, a person of worth and value to the world would have been a step in the right direction. A step that probably gave many generations of women hope - that they might do something in the world, that they might gain the praise of powerful men, that they might contribute to the well-being of their families, that they might matter. “Here’s how to matter” the passage seems to say; “Do this, this, and this, and you’ll be worthy to take up space on the earth! It’s possible for you to be worthy!”
But of course that messaging rides on the underlying assumption that women are unworthy to start with. And that the only way she can become worthy is by doing doing doing; by caring for her appearance; by earning money for her husband; by functioning as a wife and bearing and raising children, by keeping a smoothly-running household. Her performance determines her suitability for existence. And the pinnacle of her existence is her marriage and motherhood.
And we are several millennia further along the trajectory now. By now we know that our worth, any person’s worth as a person, man or woman, is not dependent on what we do. We know that there is no greatest and no least. We know that we cannot earn our way to worthiness. We know that the Imago Dei is in every single one of us regardless of our gender or any other construct. And we know this because Christ (plus, in my case, a bunch of wise women) taught us.
Christ sat his disciples down (in Mark 9) and told them to quit bickering about who was greatest, about who had accomplished most. He hugged the tiniest child who’d not yet had a chance to accomplish anything, and said Here’s the great one. Here’s the worthy one. The value of this life is not predicated on its Doing, it simply IS valuable.
Woman, the world needs you. You can’t marry or mother your way to worthiness. Your own self, your own existence, your own recognition of the divine within you, is the gift. Proverbs 31 can teach any human being about having a good work ethic and being a productive member of society. (Try this: read it like “A capable husband who can find? He is far more precious than jewels. He changes diapers and makes casseroles. He works a full day and then give the kids a bath… just kidding that’s not how it goes…) But it does not tell you who you are. For that you’ll have to scroll further down to the words of Christ, who values all, who sees beyond failures and accomplishments, who looks at the heart (not the reproductive organs), and who is always validating the worth of everyone he meets.
God, the world has given us all sorts of roadmaps to worth and value:
Have a nice house,
Marry a nice man,
Have nice children.
We’ve got centuries worth of pressure telling us how to behave
How to prove to the world that we are worthy to exist.
We’ve got cannons-worth of writings telling us what to do,
How to justify taking up space.
And then we’ve got Christ,
Who is saying something entirely different:
You are beloved.
You are made in God’s image.
You are created intentionally.
You are worthy.
Blessed is she who knows her inherent worth
And her in-born Imago Dei.
Blessed is she who functions in the world from a place of confidence
In her own belovedness and dignity.
Blessed is she who rides the unconventional wind of the Spirit,
To whatever life it takes her.
Blessed is she who is strong within herself
And whose compassion extends to all.
Blessed is she who doesn’t listen to anyone who tells her
That she has to earn or prove her worth.
Blessed is she who changes the world
By her unfettered existence in it.
Many a scripture has been misused to subdue her.
Many a man has sought to control her.
Many a society has marginalized her.
Many a church has silenced her.
But we are listening to you now - to Christ and to Lady Wisdom,
And we are walking new paths of peace, dignity, and empowerment. Amen