It is encouraging to read about this wonderful woman in Proverbs with her wealth and her servants and all her virtues. In Hebrew, this poem about a good wife is an alphabetical acrostic. Each line begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The author went to a lot of trouble to write this. The wife of this statesman frees his time for conferring with the city officials-his household is in good hands.
It is encouraging that this woman is not mere chattel of her husband-she is the responsible head of her household, she provides for food and clothing, purchases property, engages in trade, and exercises charity. Her physical beauty is not important but her intelligence, kindness, industry, and religious spirit are what make her valuable.
And, these are the lines we could hold up in comparison with James’ admonishment and Jesus’ teaching: [Never spiteful, she treats (her husband) generously all her life long. She’s quick to assist anyone in need, reaches out to help the poor. When she speaks she has something worthwhile to say, and she always says it kindly. Her children respect and bless her, her husband joins in words of praise: The woman to be admired and praised is the woman who lives in Fear-of-God.]
James has his own advice for all of us to follow. One of the virtues of this good wife is her wisdom and James talks about how to exhibit this kind of wisdom. “Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. …Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats. Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, … not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.” Then James states that the wars and quarrels in the world come about because we all want our own way and fight for it. He suggests we allow God to work his will in us by saying a quiet yes to God so God can be with us.
And, this is what Jesus wanted from his followers. Jesus had apparently overheard their discussion of who was the greatest. This is interesting because while Jesus was away from them they had been unable to cure a boy and Jesus returned and made it right. If they couldn’t heal someone, what were they boasting about? Jesus tells them of the murder and rising again of the Son of Man and they have no idea what he is talking about. Their topic of discussion is about which one of them is number one.
When Jesus asked them what they were discussing The Message version says, “The silence was deafening…” So, Jesus sits down in the posture of a teacher and gathers the twelve around him. He tells them the way to be in first place is to take the last place and become the servant of all. Just like the ideal wife. Just like the ideal community that James described. Jesus is telling them when they speak they should have something worthwhile to say and they should always say it kindly. He is telling them it is the way they live rather than the way they talk that matters. This does not line up with their concern for who is the greatest.
These passages made me think of my friend, Cheryl, she is constantly amazing me in the way she observes what is going on around her-stuff the rest of us would often miss. She is so thankful for every day blessings but she also recognizes servanthood in others.
One day this summer she sent me a list of observances on a hot day in Indianapolis: 1. Today I saw a tall African American man park under a no-parking sign and run up to a white street guy out on the sidewalk and give him two bags of potato chips and a big bottle of water. I’ve seen this street guy downtown quite a bit. He stands out. He has a leg missing and rolls around in a wheelchair. The African American fella patted him on the shoulder and said, “Here buddy, take care of yourself, you hear?” 2. On the radio I heard statistics about how women are treated in some third-world countries and how often they commit suicide. 3. Today, when I got to the UPS Store, it didn’t open for 10 more minutes. The cashier let me in, turned on the equipment, helped me pack my husband’s hearing aids and get them ready to ship before she opened the door for business because I told her I would be late for work. 4. Today, one of the people in charge at work left me a little surprise on my desk. They randomly leave different people little surprises almost daily. 5. People opened doors for one another and helped one another get out of the heat. 6. Today when I returned from Pilates, several people congratulated me on my efforts to stay healthy. 7. As much as the cup shakers on the street corners get under my skin, today I thought about how hot the pavement was and I wondered what motivated a person to make a living like that. 8. Today I saw one of the homeless people stretched out on cardboard on the curb in an alley with nothing on but his shorts taking a nap in spite of the traffic and the crowds. 9. When I exchanged a pair of shoes that had come apart shortly after I purchased them, I was happy I could buy new shoes.
It occurred to me how richly God had blessed my life and in spite of some difficulties, they do not compare to people who have no hope and believe death is the only way out. I’m inside a cool house, not sleeping on a hot sidewalk downtown, I can buy new clothes and shoes that can be exchanged and fit properly without someone else’s rips and stains. I have good medical care. I just thought I’d take a minute to thank God for all the blessings including this little beagle that was sent to me to love.
Cheryl likes to serve others and she notices when people are like-minded. She isn’t trying to be the greatest or first, she is trying to do the best she can with what she has and share as much as she can with those who have so little.
And Jesus wanted his followers to understand about servanthood. Jesus set a child in the middle of the room and embraced the child. “Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me—God who sent me.” Who are the children among us? Who is the most vulnerable? These are the ones we must embrace and serve: the street guy in the wheel chair who could use some water on a hot day, the oppressed, the person who goes above and beyond to provide service, people who give unexpected gifts and the people who receive them, people who pause to hold open a door, people who provide encouragement to others, people who sleep on cardboard in alleyways, people who beg for money, people who take in little dogs who need new homes and people who pause to count their blessings.
I don’t feel much like the ideal wife-her virtues are beyond belief which is why I am so glad she doesn’t live next door. I like to sew. I will continue to shop for bargains-at least I identify with this aspect of the ideal wife-but I will not be rising before dawn. I do have a sense of the worth of my work and that doing the task at hand is valuable. And, I will always love children and do whatever I can to make the lives of the vulnerable in my community better.
I am part of another community-the mama lions who put on Camp Victory every year. I spent the last day and a half with part of that community. I am always amazed at how easily they embrace new members to that community and the caliber of the people who come together to make sure these young girls have four days of camp each year.
This year is the 20th year of camp. I made time this year to return for the camp training so I could interact with the new people who were there. When one of our Texan members realized I was leaving early-she asked for a hug and bemoaned that she wouldn’t have time to talk to me. And this is the deal, each mama lion is valued so highly that if one goes missing or if there isn’t time for that conversation to “catch up” the time isn’t complete. This Camp Victory community is so loving and so empowering that physical appearance, religious belief, and the way one dresses are inconsequential because we are looking into one another’s hearts and truly seeing what gifts each of us brings to the table. Each gift is honored because whatever it is, we will figure out a way to build it up and use it at camp.
And in this place, I hope we will all strive not against one another but strive to get along as James admonishes us to and as Jesus told his disciples long ago. How can anyone who has stooped to embrace a child not have some understanding of God’s love for us? It is a simple and humbling action.
I don’t think James was speaking only of a church community-I think he was talking about how we deal with the world in general. We can create the kind of community that honors each person’s dignity by acting it out in our own lives. Let us speak only when we have something worthwhile to say and let us say it with kindness. Live well, live wisely, live humbly. Let us always be aware of the needs of others.
I would also like to offer thanksgiving for the life, dedication, and friendship of my fellow mama lion, Joan. She is much like the wife in Proverbs and I pray for a peaceful passage to the place without strife. Amen.