Reflection: September 23

Published on Sep 26th, 2018 by Rev. David Boyd | 0

         I’m sometimes asked how we choose Scripture readings for Sunday morning.  Some of you may know that we follow a 3-year cycle that was decided by denominations from around the world some time ago.  Later it was revised and is now known as the Revised Common Lectionary, the word having to do with reading.  Each year features one of the gospels predominantly—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—with a good bit of the Gospel of John thrown in.  There’s a Psalm each week, a reading from the Hebrew Scriptures and a non-gospel part of the Christian Scriptures.  So, there are a total of 4 readings each week.

         We usually read the psalm and the gospel reading and sometimes use one of the other two if it pertains to the theme for that week.  We try to offer backgrounds to the readings even if we’re not preaching on that passage just so that the scripture readings make some sense in terms of historical background and interpretation.  Those who came up with the lectionary try to touch each book of the Bible at least once in the course of 3 years.

         For a variety of issues that face us in the modern church, many of us preachers shy away from some passages that would require too much explanation or are just too problematic; in a Bible study setting, you can get into some of those issues more deeply. And quite frankly, we don’t use the Bible literally and we understand that the Bible is a set of stories that give some shape to who we are.  This view occasionally gets us—The United Church of Canada—into hot water.  But, to use retired United Church theologian Douglas John Hall’s words, “We are not a people of the book,”[1]contrary to popular opinion.

         I say all this because of the passage from Proverbs.  It is a problematic passage because it has been interpreted from a patriarchal perspective over much of the history of both Jewish and Christian existence; it has been used to justify the subjugation of women through history.  I appreciate the fresh feminist interpretations of this passage.

As outlined in the background that Fran read, there are a number of issues with the interpretation of this passage; I outlined 4 issues and I’ll remind us of those: 1) the idealization of a certain way of being a woman; 2) the assumption that the passage is for and about women only; 3) the creation of a standard of perfection; and 4) the heterosexual-normative bias of this passage.

Last week we read the beginning of Proverbs, which is about Sophia-Wisdom, the personification of God as a woman.  She calls on human beings to live in wisdom, to follow the paths of engagement, hope, justice, love, and compassion. According to some scholars, and as I said last week, she is the creative spark of the universe present at the Big Bang. The passage this morning, which comes at the end of the book, is set in this context.  Feminist scholars have said that the woman portrayed at the end of Proverbs isn’t based on an actual person, but is Sophia-Wisdom herself.

Amy Oden, Professor of Early Church History and Spirituality at St. Paul School of Theology in Oklahoma City, says that there are a number of things that this passage “doesn’t say.”  It doesn’t say that this woman’s worth is derived. She is not a derivative being.  It doesn’t say that her worth isn’t a result of her own agency, actions and choices. The verbs in this passage indicate that she leads her own life and pursues her own ends; this woman is in charge of herself.  It doesn’t say anything about pregnancy or childbirth. The passage is about generating and creating: she seeks, rises, buys, provides, thereby being creative and nurturing.  It doesn’t say anything about what she looks like.  Contrary to popular culture today, there’s nothing about her weight, shape, clothes, make-up, etc., that dominates so much advertising in all media today.[2]

Oden goes on to say that this passage offers a “radical counter-cultural message in the profound silence about what she looks like. The closing verse reminds us that ‘beauty is vain,’ not something women (or men (sic)—anyone) hear anywhere in the daily visual assault of airbrushed female bodies on billboards, magazine stands, and pop-up ads. The silence of Proverbs 31 on appearance is striking and refreshing. She is praised for the content of her character and the excellence of her endeavours rather than the surface of her skin.”[3]

When coupled with the teaching from Mark about being last and servant of others, Proverbs has much to teach us in this day and age, where it seems all about getting even, getting ahead of the others, competition and wealth, affirming that what’s mine is mine, and making sure my tribe is protected.  Ched Myers, an interpreter of Mark, says that chapter 9, verse 30 begins a section in Mark about Jesus’ vision for a new world order.  It is a world order based on distributive justice, an equal sharing of resources, love, compassion, a radical definition of human beings as equal partners with God in creating a world of hope and justice.  God’s KinDom of love is not a hierarchical one but is one in which we serve each other.  And to make the point, Jesus takes a child, who had no rights in society, and says even this child has rights.  Jesus said, by virtue of being a human being, this child is a child of God, with rights and privileges.  We all have rights and privileges.

Part of what it means to live today in the environment—both constructed and natural—is to revalue life.  We revalue life based on what’s inside of us rather than superficial traits; we value that we are all inter- and in- dependent, creative, non-derivative beings in partnership with one another and the Creator of All.  We value that we are part of a larger community of life and we all have a part to play and instead of grasping to get ahead of others, we ask, “How might I serve?”

The KinDom of God demands of us a Wisdom that leads to life, that follows along the line of the Rev. Joseph Lowery, who gave the benediction at Barak Obama’s 1stInauguration; he said, “in the memory of all the saints who from their labours rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around— when yellow will be mellow—when the red man (sic) can get ahead, man—and when white will embrace what is right.  Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.[4] 

AMEN.

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[1]From Peter Kaye lecture series given some years ago and in his book, “What Christianity is Not.”

[2]See Amy Oden’s article at http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1377.

[3]Ibid.

[4]Read the whole prayer at http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/stevenwaldman/2009/01/rev-lowery-inauguration-benedi.html.

 

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