“A capable wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels…
She looks well to the ways of her household.”
Though this morning’s sermon is based on the famous “capable wife” text from Proverbs that we just heard, we’re not going to begin there. We’re going to begin rather with Vladimir Putin and an August 12 Op-Ed piece from the New York Times. In “What the West Gets Wrong About Russia,” writer Ivan Krastev argues that, in contrast to earlier Soviet policy that was at once enigmatic and strategic, today’s Kremlin is simply enigmatic:
Kremlin policy is fashioned rather like the music of a jazz group; its continuing improvisation is an attempt to survive the latest crisis… What runs the Kremlin today is not Mr. Putin’s will but his ambiguity… The Kremlin is populated not by mere survivors of the post-Soviet transition but by survivalists, people who think in terms of worst-case scenarios, who believe that the next disaster is just around the corner, who thrive on crises, who are addicted to extraordinary situations and no-rules politics.
Krastev goes on to argue that Russia is a personality-driven regime which has no vision other than Putin, no plan of succession after Putin, and whose politics are therefore unpredictable, and whose government is therefore weak and unstable.
I bring up this Op-Ed piece not to criticize Russia or to blow our own country’s horn – God knows we can be short-sighted. I bring up this piece to highlight by means of contrast the so-called “capable wife” of Proverbs. If in this article Putin is a survivalist, believing that the next disaster is just around the corner, the capable wife is one who “is not afraid,” but who “perceives,” “considers,” and plans for the future. If in this article Putin thrives on crises and is addicted to extraordinary situations, the capable wife does all she can do to avoid crises, toiling night and day to put her household in order and to care for her children. And if in this article Putin is enigmatic and unpredictable, the capable wife is utterly reliable. “The heart of her husband trusts in her,” her household depends on her, the poor look to her, and the townspeople praise her.
Before we get too far, I should say that today’s text is not about women and what women “should” or “ought” to be. The capable wife, appearing as she does at the very end of Proverbs, is the personification of all the proverbs that have come before. It is she who gathers up into her person their wisdom and shows the reader what life can be, if we truly were wise and feared the Lord.
Looking back into Proverbs, we can see some of the characteristics that go into making this capable wife. The proverbs speak, for example, about
- The value of trust
- The importance of being diligent in work
- Being patient and thinking long-term
- The power of speech to build up or tear down
- The rewards of caring for the poor
- The benefits of a peaceful household
- The importance of developing good relations with our neighbors
- The value of kindness
- How we are to be grateful for and care for our spouse and / or children
- How the gifts given us are for the benefit of others
The capable wife is or has all of these gifts, and they enable her to administer her household in stuch a way that she creates and sustains an environment in which life may flourish. The capable wife is the model of a Godly and effective administrator, ordering her household in such a way that she creates and sustains an environment in which life may flourish.
We often think of administrative work as so much drudgery. But, when done to help create and sustain a life-giving environment, administrative work is a holy task. When we create and sustain an environment in which life may flourish, administrative work is a holy task because we participate in God’s ongoing creation of this world, who works always on our behalf, seeking to make our world a place where life may flourish.
And so when we do tasks that organize our household in such a way that life may flourish – when we pay our bills, when we go grocery shopping, when we clean the countertops – we participate in God’s ongoing creation of this world. When we treat employees fairly, or when we conduct business with transparency and build trust, or when we bring our best selves to our students, we are doing holy tasks. Or when we serve on our parish’s Treasurer’s team, or arrive early to organize the Sunday School space, or when we coordinate volunteers for B-SAFE, or when we serve on the Vestry or Finance Committee or Property Committee meetings, we are being “capable wives,” helping to create and sustain an environment in which life may flourish.
I hear this morning’s text calling us all to be “capable wives,” people who help to create environments in which life may flourish. Administration is not glamorous, but it is essential to the ongoing, sustained life of a community. If we let them, administrative tasks can be holy tasks; if we let them, administrative tasks can open us up to a deeper participation in the life of God, who is the most “capable wife,” doing all God can do to make this world a place of life and flourishing. I pray that, as we begin this new year, we may all be “capable wives,” claiming and owning our administrative capacity to create and sustain environments, wherever we may be, in which life can flourish.