Proverbs 31:10-13,19-20,30–31; I Thessalonians 5:1–6; Matthew 25:14–30
A valiant woman, who can find?
What an incredible honor and privilege I have to live among a group of women who embody the teaching of the reading from the Book of Proverbs. This encomium of praise of the good woman is not simply a listing of female domestic virtues of the obedient wife. It is very deliberately a mirror image of the acclamation which Scripture showers on men in the first part of this very chapter of Proverbs and which also finds expression in the Psalms, particularly Psalm 111 (112). Read them together and you will be amazed at all the parallels.
What is the quintessential characteristic of a man in most of literature and the arts? I would have to say it is strength. And does it not find expression in that most awesome sculpture by Michelangelo of King David? When I came face-to-face with this massive sculpture to masculinity, I was utterly overwhelmed. It was far back in 1980, but the impression remains with me even till today. Yet it was not just physical strength that was to the fore, but an immense sense of male moral power. That what makes a male a male is his constancy, his holding true to conviction, his unswerving dedication to the truth of life, his defense of the weak and the vulnerable, the wounded and the poor. Scripture echoes this portrayal throughout its pages.
Power and strength are also the characteristics of the female as described in our First Reading. The same Hebrew words which describe the strength of the warrior male are used to portray the valiant female, even though they entail different outcomes. The warrior male overcomes in battle with arms and acumen, the strong woman overcomes by her ceaseless efforts in defeating the obstacles to providing for her family through toil and education. The equality of both in the eyes of God is shown above all in the primacy of the fear of the Lord in all of men’s and women’s endeavors.
It is this strength which comes from the fear of the Lord which will enable us to double our five or two or one talents. God does not ask more of us than what God has given. But God does demand that we use all the strength, ingenuity and creativity of which we are capable. Burying the one talent is not an option. The fear of the Lord, that sense of the Lord’s presence in every activity of our day, allows us to fulfill God’s requirements for good — as it does for the strong man of Psalm 111 and for the strong woman of Proverbs 31.
Let us ask Jesus in this Eucharist to give us the grace to be such strong men and strong women. Let us be focused on doing the work of the Lord and making kindness, love, in Hebrew, hesed, flourish on our earth according to the beautiful expression of Proverbs in praise of the strong woman.