20 September 2009
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 20B (RCL)
James 3:13 — 4:3, 7-8a
The good wife, who can find? This reading could easily give a woman a real sense of inadequacy. Certainly, we have seen enough of the do-it-all woman, who has to work, be a wife, raise kids, and often enough without significant help from her spouse. First of all, it is important to note that the ideal wife in this passage from Proverbs is from the upper classes: in v. 15, she provides tasks for her servant girls; she also has enough money to buy a field on her own.
But far more important to understanding this passage is to recognize that it is written for young men, from the upper classes, who are being trained to take their place in the king’s household. Throughout the book, they have been warned about “wiley” women, who, if they allow it, will seduce them away from their standing. It would be easy to come away with a “blame the woman” attitude from Proverbs, but this is the closing poem. If a man remains faithful to his good wife, she will do him great good and not harm.
I also love the way it turns the question of where wisdom resides on its head. These young men are going to sit at the king’s table and give him advice. But wisdom, personified in the good wife, is not to be found there, but at home. The holy life will be lived at home!
James has one line this time that make the reading worth it: you want and do not have, so you commit murder. How many people in the pews will “Oh, really!?” None of us have commited murder. But, it’s shocking enough to make you think. We want oil, and so what happens? You can trace out the questions.
Mark similarly turns around the question of where power resides. After predicting the passion, which the disciples still don’t get, Jesus has to ask the disciples what they were arguing about. They were arguing about who is the greatest — presumably when he comes in glory. Where will power be? Whoever wants to be greatest must be minister of all — both represent all, and wait on all — it’s a great word in Greek. And then Jesus takes a child and says essentially, this is God’s ambassador. What is the point of power in community? Is it not about protecting the community, guarding the fringes? Who could be more at the edge of community, more powerless, than a child not yet gendered? And, if the community is to survive, this child must survive. Power in the church should be about bringing the edges in, not figuring out where the center is. The holy life is not found at the king’s table, but where we live.