May a lightning bolt not come down from the heavens and strike me dead for what I’m about to say. Here goes: There simply aren’t all that many readings in the bible that place women in a favorable light. Ruth, of course, was a good and faithful daughter-in-law. The Blessed Mother was awesome. There was Martha and Mary, but frankly, the Gospel writers kind of portray Martha as a whiner. Mary Magdalen held her own. Esther took great personal risk to help the Jewish people.
But then there’s St. Paul and his infamous women should be subservient to their husbands. You know, the reading that priests and ministers each year try to convince 50 percent of the congregation Paul didn’t really mean it like it sounds. One step forward and two steps back.
But the Old Testament reading from Proverbs (31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31) that was read at this past weekend’s Masses is a winner. In fact, it’s good enough to repeat here:
When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls. Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize. She brings him good and not evil, all the days of her life. She obtains wool and flax and works with loving hands. She puts her hands to the distaff, and her fingers ply the spindle. She reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy. Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her a reward for her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.
The language is somewhat old-fashioned, it’s true. While I work with wool when I do my handicrafts, it’s for fun and rarely to provide warmth for my family. I ply neither spindle nor distaff, having never spun anything into wool in my life. Yet, I like the reading. I particularly like the part where it reminds us that charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting, because man alive, don’t you realize that as you age? There had better be something other than my looks that keep my relationship with my husband alive and well. Because that ship has sailed.
I was eager to listen to our homily yesterday, first, because I like the priest/homilist very much, but second, the reading, the reading, oh the reading. I couldn’t wait to hear what he said about women being more valuable than pearls.
What he said was exactly nothing. Not. One. Word. At least not one word about the Old Testament reading. Instead he focused on the gospel which was so depressing that prior to Mass, as Bill looked over the Liturgy of the Word as he is wont to do, he leaned over to me and whispered sarcastically, “Wow, that’s certainly a cheerful gospel we have to look forward to.”
As we lead up to the first Sunday in Advent, which prepares us for the birth of Jesus, the Church offers readings that make you want to slit your wrists. End of days. You don’t know the day or the hour. Good reminders, all. But give us a break. I can’t wait for Joy to the World.
And then Matthew tells us that Jesus shared a parable with his disciples. He tells the story of the man giving three servants money. He gives the first servant five coins, the second servant two coins, and the third servant one coins. The first and second servants wisely invested the money and returned it to their master with a profit. The third was too timid to do anything but bury the money, so when his master returned, he could only give back the one coin he had received. The master is pleased with the first two guys, but calls the third guy a wicked, lazy servant.
What? Now Jesus is getting into banking? Seriously, that parable has always puzzled me a bit. It isn’t like the third servant stole the money. He gave it back, but without any interest. Is that so bad?
But maybe the point of the parable is not if or how we should invest our money. God has given us all gifts, and it’s our responsibility to take those gifts and share them with others. If we take the strengths and talents given to us and simply hide away in a room without using them for good, we are wasting our lives. We are like the third servant who was too fearful to take a risk. We want God to take care of us but shy away from the responsibility that entails.
Now, finally, as I ponder the meaning of the gospel, I am able to come back to the good wife in the first reading. The wife who works hard and gives of herself, who doesn’t sit back and watch soap operas during the day, but instead takes care of her spouse and her children and her neighbors and her coworkers.
I’m afraid that many days I would simply bury my coins in a hole.