In Remembrance of All of Them
Passage: Proverbs 31:1-31; Mark 14:3-9
Date: November 25, 2018
Preacher: Guest Preacher
Guest Preacher: Rev. Eileen Parfrey
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We Americans get uneasy around talk of kings.The only monarchs we like are butterflies and tabloid stars. Yet, here we are on the last Sunday of the liturgical year, celebrating Reign of Christ Sunday, a celebration of royal doctrine if ever we met one. That dis-ease with monarchy isn’t just us. The Torah (the first five books of the Bible) is even more skeptical, setting out a constitution for Israel that would eliminate the need forkings, if people would live by it.Yet, the defining events of Israel’s history concern their rulers—good ones, failed ones, awaited ones. The Messiah was the king everyone waited for,until the apostle Paul and gospel writers preached Jesus as Messiah, longed-for, righteous, and just ruler.
So, if this is Reign of Christ Sunday, why are we using two texts about women?This isn’t about resistance to patriarchy.First of all,I preached from these texts in Guatemala, so this is our chance to share that experience with you.Secondly, these two women (one idealized, one memorialized) show us what sort of “king” Jesus is,and both critique the patriarchy and human use of power.
Just reading about the Virtuous Woman is exhausting.No single human can possibly do and be everything this woman purports to be, yet we often hear this on Mother’s Day and at the funerals of women. Reading this every day in Guatemala as our daily devotion with my sisters-in-mission, however, it comes across differently. We were visiting Guatemala, as you recall, to meet women in the microloan program Westminster supports.We saw them supporting their families for the first time, empowered finally to make end-runs around the culturally endorsed abuse and violence against them. The greatest praise given the Virtuous Woman is that she “lives in the Fear of God,” and in Guatemala, I discovered what that really means.It sounds like an emotion, whereas in fact, it’s a religious technical term meaning Torah living—that way of life spelled out for Israel in its constitution. Kings, of all people,were supposed to personify that righteous and just way of living, and here in Proverbs we learn of a woman doing that.
Which is a tiny bit ironic.The Virtuous Woman appears in the last chapter of Proverbs, one that starts with the fictitious mother of the fictitious King Lemuel addressing him about how to be a king.Yeah, this part of the chapter sounds like she’s telling him what kind of girl she expects him to bring home, but the first nine verses of this chapter describe the lifestyle and job expectations of a good king.Do not lead a self-centered, indulgent life, she says, because a king’s job is to look out for vulnerable persons. Her last words before speaking of the Virtuous Woman instruct him to defend the rights of the poor and needy.After which she describes this paragon of domestic virtue, as if to say that a monarch must be so committed to the well-being of the “household” of the nation that the monarch emulates this woman who gets up early to care for her household, works with her own hands, acts justly and compassionately, is frugal and industrious. That’s a different sort of leader than what we Americans have come to resent.You know what I mean.We resent corrupt rulers who wage wars for the sake of territorial expansion in order to appropriate the resources of conquered peoples, who use armies not to protect from enemies but to oppress their own people.Rulers who tax the poor and forget to tax the rich. Rulers who lead extravagant lifestyles at the expense of ordinary folk who can barely eke out a living. Rulers who use women as things.Rulers who keep children uneducated so as to misuse them more easily.
In Guatemala we saw the continuing effects of this colonial imperialism. But we saw the kin-dom of God in Guatemala, too.Microloan recipients chattering in our van, telling about their lives and new businesses (finally earning a living, their husbands resisting their independence, then accepting their help).So crowded, we were our own chicken bus, four butts on a three-butt bench, jouncing over ruts, praying the rain wouldn’t wash out the road before we hit pavement.Preaching in a sanctuary with walls only on three sides, looking at the faces worn by suffering, seeing the young and hopeful faces, all of them shining in love for the mission coworkers who had come to say goodbye.Preaching before the pastor who receives death threats as serious as the ones Oscar Romero received before his martyrdom (and for the same reason).Talking with the man who left a hard-to-find, paying teaching job to serve a tiny, remote congregation for uncertain pay and the resistance of the presbytery.This kin-dom is what Amy Frykholm calls “ephemeral.” It’s the same kin-dom American priest Stanley Rother experienced in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala.Ephemeral, a kin-dom glimpsed at terrible cost, Rother watched as indigenous owners’ land became productive enough to be attractive to foreign companies. He saw those powers gain control of the land and resources by using the Guatemalan militia to systematically rape the women and murder peasants as they worked those same fields.Stanley Rother loved his people and sheltered them in the church; for this he was martyred.
Jesus preached the kin-dom coming and was anointed at Bethany by a woman who could see the kin-dom already come in him, and for her vision, Jesus defends her with the words, “what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”She offers a kingly anointing on his head.Jesus rightly says she’s anointing him for burial,because the next thing that happens is that Judas betrays him and he is crucified.The juxtaposition of the two events, and Jesus’ interpretation, tells me that we (the Church) are to embody that royal anointing, we are to enact the Reign of Christ in our institutions, our corporations, our world.The Torah tells us how:right relationships, justice as well as mercy in public life, protection of the poor and vulnerable, welcome for foreigners, care for creation, fair and equitable treatment of workers. That’s our job description. Because, wherever in the whole world the good news is preached . . . whatever we ALL have done will be told in remembrance of all of us.