We had a great deal of interesting discussion about this first reading at our bible study last Monday evening, I can tell you, with its description of the “capable” wife, or as some versions have it, the “perfect” wife.
I asked the women in the group what they thought about the description. Most admitted to being somewhat intimidated by the picture, and who can blame them? The woman in this reading seems to be a composite of the perfect housewife, mother and career woman. She never seems to stop working at one task or other, never seems to need sleep, is a first-class business woman, is praised by both her husband and children, and, to top it all off, is generous to the poor and needy. Who could possibly live up to that description?
The one woman I could think of who might do that is Justice Amy Barrett, who was recently elected to the U.S. Supreme Court. I am sure that the Senators who interrogated her during the hearings felt just as intimidated by her as the women in the bible study were by the description of the woman in our first reading. It is tough to find fault with someone who seems to tick all the boxes: wife and mother of 7, including two adopted children from Haiti, superb resume, someone who has fought her way to the very top of her male-dominated profession, etc, etc.
And so, lacking anything else to attack, the Democrat Senators fell back on attacking her religious faith. As one left-leaning Senator said: “Your dogma sounds strongly in you.” Myself, I would have thought that was a plus, rather a minus. But apparently the Senator was very concerned that Justice Amy Barrett’s strong Catholic faith would lead her to vote down any pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia and pro same-sex marriage measure that came before her on the Supreme Court. She apparently voiced that fear in a private remark to a colleague which she thought was off-microphone, but, unfortunately for her, was not. I would have thought that, as one woman to another, she would have applauded Justice Amy having the courage of her convictions, would indeed as one woman to another, have applauded her for making it to the top of her profession.
But apparently not.
For those who are thinking: what about the capable man?
Why is there no similar description of such a person? Could it be that the Old Testament did not believe such a being as a perfect man could possibly exist? Well calm down, because we are given a picture of someone like that, and it is in our responsorial psalm today, although it is not as extended and complete a picture as that of the capable wife in our first reading. Forget the “everyone” in the response, “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,” by the way . This psalm is talking about a man, a husband and a father. Of course it is, he is said to have a wife, and this was written long, long before our present day when our society’s marriage laws permit two women to marry. Anyway, the third verse specifically mentions that the person being spoken about is a “man”, so there! Put side by side, as they appear in our readings today, we have a picture of the perfect or capable woman, and the perfect or capable man. They share many of the same qualities: they are both industrious, efficient, prosperous, good providers for their families, and so on.
The one thing that is not mentioned about them is whether or not they are physically good-looking and sexually attractive, and at once we see that the writers of the first reading and psalm are not at all interested in such matters. Indeed the first reading makes clear that the woman described here is definitely NOT a“trophy” wife, for it says, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain.” The woman is beautiful within, in her soul, in her character and that is all that really matters. The same thing is said of the man in our psalm – no rugged good looks, no dashing suave personality, no hint of mystery or danger. James Bond, eat your heart out !
But what both capable man and woman especially share which enables them to provide such a compelling composite of all the talents is a, “fear of the Lord.” Our first reading says, “a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” and the third verse of our psalm repeats that for the man: “Thus shall be blessed the man who fears the Lord.”
Please understand that this “fear” is not the same as the fear the slave in our gospel parable today exhibits towards his master, which leads him to bury his talent in the ground. That is terror, dread, fear of being punished. That is definitely NOT the kind of fear which the Bible means when it talks about “fear of the Lord.” Fear of the Lord in the Bible means reverence, awe, respect, love, obedience and faithfulness. This is the only “fear” that we should have towards God. When St John speaks, in his first letter, about fear as “fear of punishment” he clearly says that such fear should have no place in those who are children of God by reason of their baptism.
In chapter 4, verses 16 – 19, St John states the following:
“We have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this : that we may have boldness on the day of judgement…there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears in this way has not reached perfection in love. We love because God first loved us.”
Isn’t that beautiful?
The capable or perfect man or woman are so because they have allowed the love of God to enter into their hearts and penetrateto the very core of their being. It is that love of God , poured into our hearts, as St Paul says, in Romans 5:5, by the Holy Spirit, which has been given to us, in our baptism and confirmation, it is that love of God which enables us, motivates us, inspires us, to love God and love our neighbor, and love ourselves. To the extent we allow that love of God to flow through us without hindrance, to that extent we will exhibit more and more the qualities of the perfect or capable man or woman.
To the extent we fail to open our hearts to the love of God, either through the wrong kind of fear, or through our emotional woundedness, or through our sense of unworthiness and sin, to that extent we do not come into the fullness of who we were meant to be, who God intended for us to be. We fail to become the best version of ourselves that we can be. God is not in the way of us becoming more fully ourselves , as the secular world likes to claim, in its attempt to discredit God and remove him from the world – it is we ourselves, because we keep God at bay, we fail to surrender our lives to him in faith and trust. Because, ultimately, we do not experience enough of his love. Which is a problem for us, and a problem for God. All the love in his being which he wants to flood us with, and here we are presenting a narrow bottleneck in our hearts to him, with a stopper on the top.
What to do, what to do? And the answer is very simple. So very, very simple.
To pray every day, “Come Holy Spirit, fill the heart of me , your faithful one, and re-enkindle in me the fire of your love.”
When that Democrat Senator said to Justice Amy Barrett: “Your dogma sounds strongly in you,” she really meant, “The love of God sounds strongly in you.” Justice Amy knew the love of God, knew that she was loved by God. And so she was not afraid. Not afraid of the attacks, or nasty insinuations, or false accusations, or put-downs.
And so I believe she can be trusted with the most difficult legal decisions that come before her, as she can be trusted with the everyday decisions of home and family and everyday life that have come before her, and still do so. Because she knows she is loved, loved, loved by God. And she loves him back, and that love will lead her to handle the choices and decisions of her life with wisdom and capability and love.
And so it should be for each one of us, brothers and sisters. If we let God into our hearts, if we let him love us, as he so much wants us to… let us pray