I was asked to do one of the readings at the wedding. The original plan had been to write and to read a poem for Emma and Joseph, but there was a service written out and coming off script wasn’t encouraged. The passage, not familiar to me, is taken from Ecclesiasticus which sits somewhere in the Apocrypha, that middle section between the Old and New Testaments where most Protestants don’t visit.
Happy the husband of a really good wife;
The number of his days will be doubled.
A perfect wife is the joy of her husband,
He will live out the years of his life in peace.
A good wife is the best of portions,
Reserved for those who fear the Lord;
Rich or poor, they will be glad of heart,
Cheerful of face, whatever the season.
The grace of a wife will charm her husband,
Her accomplishments will make him stronger.
A silent wife is a gift from the Lord,
No price can be put on a well-trained character.
A modest wife is a boon twice over,
A chaste character cannot be weighed on scales.
Like the sun rising over the mountains of the Lord
is the beauty of a good wife in a well-kept house
(Ecclesiasticus 26:1-4, 16-21)
I thought there were one or two lines to take issue with. It doesn’t really describe a modern marriage, does it? I have always had a bit of a problem with the silent part of anything. The well-kept house would be nice but doesn’t happen very often. Describing anyone in terms of how they benefit another person seems to do an injustice to both partners in a marriage.
I tracked down the missing verses, the bits between v4 and v16. They describe the kind of wife that a man wouldn’t want to have – the selfish, vain woman who nags him.
I sit somewhere between the two women.
I wasn’t sure I could do justice to the passage. It wasn’t something that I felt I had signed up to myself. Perhaps my husband has a different view of me as a wife. Maybe I am his joy and he lives out his life in peace because of me. Maybe. If the lenses in my glasses were of an up-to-date prescription I might have seen from my lectern position the eyes of all the women in the room rolling at one line or another. The church, yet again, failing to keep up with today’s world.
“What’s so wrong about serving?” asked God this morning.
Take away the context of a marriage and if people put that kind of thinking into any relationship the world would be a different place.
Why can’t we all be the joy in the lives of other people? Why can’t someone else have years of peace because of the way I live my life as their friend? Do I have to surrender my gladness when the end of the month comes and my wage packet is all spent? Should other people have to live with my misery? “Cheerful of face, whatever the season” – we all respond to a cheerful face.
Silence is not always the option that we choose. We are so quick to defend or justify ourselves. We feel the need to supply the context for our actions and insist on not being misunderstood. Our silence allows the other person to be free to supply the context and to misunderstand. Yes, there are times when silence is not the right option – there are things that need to be talked about, discussed, air cleared and so on. But there are a lot of things said that need not be.
The “well-trained character” seems to apply more to the dog than to the wife – but let’s not forget that we are all in training for righteousness as Christians.
I do yearn for a “well-kept house” – not particularly for my husband’s benefit but for my own. We all need a place of peace and our surroundings contribute to that.
“There’s nothing wrong with serving,” I admitted, “but why is all down to the wife? Where is the husband’s part in it all?”
“Why not be the instigator?” said God. “Why not set the tenor of the relationship? Why not be the starter of all things good in any relationship? The alternative it to be in a relationship where you have to earn or deserve the good. The good become something to barter over, to withdraw at times – and that’s not the kind of love that reflects the relationship between Christ and the Church which is what marriage is all about. It’s not the way I do love and it’s not supposed to be the way you do it either.”
Happy the wife of a really good husband;
The number of her days will be doubled.
A perfect husband is the joy of his wife,
She will live out the years of her life in peace.
We should all be the instigators in every relationship we have, setting the tenor, being the starter of all good things – acting rather than reacting.