Far above pearls

By: By Father Douglas Grandon

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nov. 16

Proverbs 31:10-13,19-20,30-31; Psalm 128:1-2,3,4-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 25:14-30

I remember with great fondness learning to read with thin, hard-covered “Golden Books,” one of which was the “Golden Book of ABCs.” A is for apple. B is for ball. C is for cat. Well, you get the picture.

Our first reading this week is taken from the 31st and last chapter of the Book of Proverbs. (Orthodox Jews read Proverbs 31 each Friday at the beginning of their Sabbath celebration.) This passage, beginning with verse 10, is organized mnemonically, that is, it is arranged alphabetically to facilitate easy memorization. The first verse in the Hebrew text begins with the first Hebrew letter Aleph, the second with the letter Bet, the third with Gimmel, and so forth.

The passage begins: “When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far above pearls.” The author of this section, the mysterious “King Lemuel of Massa,” learned the qualities of a good wife from his mother (Proverbs 31:1). The husband who entrusts his heart to such a woman has found an unfailing prize. “She brings him good . . . all the days of his life.” This first stanza (Proverbs 31:10-12) describes in general terms the character of the perfect wife.

The second stanza (Proverbs 31:13-15) describes her diligent work habits: “She obtains wool and flax (raw materials for clothing) and works with loving hands.” We learn in the third stanza (Proverbs: 31:16-18) about her financial abilities: “She considers a field and buys it.”

The fourth stanza (Proverbs 31:19-22a) details how she provides for her household and for the poor: “She reaches out her hand to the poor and extends her arms to the needy.” She always prepares ahead of time for the onset of winter.

The honor she brings to her family as a result of her diligence is described in the fifth stanza (Proverbs 31:22b-24): “Her husband is known in the gates” (where the city elders manage the affairs of their community). The wife herself is known among the city’s merchants, to whom she markets the work of her hands.

The sixth stanza (Proverbs 31:25-27) summarizes the wisdom and prosperity of the ideal wife: “Strength and dignity are her clothing. She laughs at the time to come.” (She has managed her affairs so prudently that she has no anxiety about the future.) “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.”

The merits of this ideal woman, as one would expect, are recognized by her family. According to the seventh stanza (Proverbs 31:28-29): “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.” Together they exclaim, ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all!'”

In the final stanza (Proverbs 31:30-31), the author offers a summary of the forgoing: “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting . . .” (The Hebrew words translated into English as “charm” and “beauty” are synonyms.) Physical attractiveness is deceitful to the woman herself because beauty passes away — and with it the hope of happiness based solely upon one’s appearance.

Beauty is also deceitful to the man attracted to a woman by her appearance alone, as he may soon be disappointed in her character — or lack of it! It is not the woman possessing natural beauty, but “the woman who fears the Lord,” who is to be praised.

The average annual salary of a private household cook is $28,000. A maid and a child care worker each make about $18,000. A financial manager earns $57 per hour, so if a housewife spends just five hours each month on financial matters (balancing the bank accounts, searching for the best insurance and mortgage rates, finding safe and profitable investments, and studying the best appliance or automobile to purchase), her yearly pay would add up to $3,420 per year. If the average wife spends five hours a week consulting with her husband about his job or business dealings, her annual income from that job would be $11,700 (at $45 per hour). And how much is it worth to have Mom serving as taxi driver and teacher? No wonder the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the value of a housewife’s labor to be $79,000 per year!

It really is true: When a man finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond the price of pearls.

Father Douglas Grandon is parochial vicar of Sacred Heart Parish in Moline and assistant director of catechetics for the Diocese of Peoria.

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