When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls. Her husband entrusts his heart to her. She is an unfailing prize. She brings good and not evil all the days of her life. She obtains wool and flax and makes cloth with loving hands. She puts her hands to the distaff and her fingers ply the spindle. She reaches out to the poor and extends her arms to the needy. Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who loves the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward of her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31.
I can’t resist repeating today’s reading from The Book of Proverbs for you. My family and I have found great comfort in these words every time we mourned the loss of one of the special women who graced our lives: my mom and my husband’s mom, our aunts and cousins, my sister and my sister-in-law and our dear friends. Each one used her hands in her own unique way to live and to love as the ideal woman described here. I believe these words characterize each one of us, women and men alike, when we use the gifts we’re given as best we can.
For the past few weeks, the scripture passages featured at our weekend Masses have focused upon the end times. After Jesus’ resurrection, those who followed Peter, Paul and the rest were quite certain that Jesus would soon return to lead them and all of the righteous to join him in heaven. As good people died and Jesus failed to come back in his glory, those waiting began to lose heart. I understand their concern as none of us want to think of our loved ones suspended in some sort of limbo for any length of time. We also hope that their good deeds will not go unnoticed in the grand scheme of things. When these scripture passages take a harsh turn regarding our failures and our unworthiness for the things to come, we find ourselves sharing the worries of Matthew’s audience. We question God’s intent and perhaps God’s love for us. This is the reason I cannot turn my thoughts from today’s passage from Proverbs. As I consider the losses of those close to me, I acknowledge that I couldn’t help focusing upon their best characteristics at the time. When their faults and frailties come to mind, I conclude that each one did his or her best in the face of circumstances none of the rest of us can fully understand. When poor choices plagued a loved one, I had no choice but to turn him or her over to God’s loving care. In the end, I know that God sees my loved ones realistically and that God loves each one without reserve. This passage from Proverbs is precious to me because I believe it echoes God’s sentiments toward us all.
My assessment of God’s mercy is the result of my own experiences as both child and parent. I was a far-from-perfect daughter. Still, I never doubted my parents’ love. My dad bore the worry of an unexpectedly abbreviated lifespan. Still, he gave my siblings and me all of the attention he could muster until the end. When my mom became our sole source of income and of everything else, she met these overwhelming responsibilities with persistence and love. When I became a mother, I finally understood my parents’ ability to love so freely. They couldn’t help themselves, just as I can’t help loving my sons more than anything. When our grandchildren came along, the unconditional love which I thought had found its limits exploded exponentially with each of their births. I’m quite certain that this is a mere hint of God’s love for you and me. Indeed, God is far too loving to dismiss any one of us.
I share all of this because, while today’s passage from Proverbs echoes God’s appreciation of our efforts, we’re occasionally given a different impression by the scriptures. These impression sometimes portray God in a less loving light. When the author of Proverbs praises a worthy wife, he assures us that the seemingly mundane things this woman does actually make all of the difference to those she has been given to love. These verses make it clear that, regardless of our stature in this life, every woman and man, teen and child is capable of living meaningfully in God’s eyes. When other passages warn of the consequences of our misdeeds, their tones respond to the mindsets of their followers, not to God’s love. Just as I occasionally adjusted the tone of my voice in response to my sons’ behavior, these scripture writers adjusted the tone of their messages to nudge their audiences to carry on more appropriately. At the same time, I never stopped loving my sons and God never stops loving us.
In the end, God doesn’t need us to do anything in particular with our lives. It is because God loves us that God gives us the opportunity to live meaningfully. Regardless of our own assessments of our talents and resources, God considers them to be of great value. They are all that we need to make a difference in this world. Like that woman from Proverbs, God invites us to bring our unique variety of goodness to everyone we meet along the way.
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