Social Context

Next Sunday I read a lesson in Church. No great Drama, except this Sunday the lesson is from Proverbs 31:10-31.

The is the passage entitled in the NRSV as the ‘Ode to a Capable Wife’. In the Old authorised version I think this began ‘The price of a Good Woman is above rubies.’ Augment this with the comment ‘But nobody knows what Ruby is charging these days’.

Of course the passage more or less sings the praises of a wife who does so much, the worker, the manager, to provider, the investor, the mother of children, the manufacturer, the gardener, the farmer. and so many more roles that all the husband seems left to do is ‘be known in the city gates and take his seat among the elders of the land’

The passage has been around for I guess 25 centuries, and so it seems valid to ask how relevant it is today, or perhaps more importantly to understand how does it speak to us today.

There is a saying ‘A text out of context is a con’ which I guess is true. Part of the context, I suggest, is the social context. There is a difference in the social context of 5th century BC Palestine and 21st Century Australia.

There is no doubt that the roles of men and women in society have changed, and our understanding of the marriage relationship has changed, so a passage that may have seemed quite fine on the original context may not seem so fine to many today, or even worse may seem quite fine to some who may seek to instil this social context as a divine imperative.

The end of the passage in fact gives us some of the clue as to how to understand this, ‘Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain’ – which suggests that we should value women (each other) not on what we look like, but of who we are. There are many qualities that speak well of a person, however our scale of values can misplace that value too easily.


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