You could be forgiven for thinking that the women in the bible are invisible. It seems to be a book in which men are prominent, it seems to be about their exploits, we hear of them, the good and the bad. The prophets are mainly men, the royalty that we hear about are mainly Kings, priests and rabbis are men, leaders are men, disputes are between men. If it is not easy to forgive the fact that women seem to be sidelined, then it is easy to understand it. No matter how inspired by God we believe that the bible is, it may be a word of God but it is also wrapped up and presented to us as a human word too. We can understand that the bible is inserted into times in which there was mainly a patriarchal society - men were heads of families, heads of society, chief of their tribes, heads of their household and so on. Much of the bible is conditioned by that view, a man’s view of things!
But it doesn’t mean that women are absent or unimportant in the bible. For every Adam there is an Eve. For every David, there is a Bathseeba his wife. For every Abraham there is a Sarah, his wife. For every Noah, there is a Namah, his wife. For every Zecheriah, there is an Elizabeth, his wife. For every Joseph, there is a Mary. There is in the New Testament for every apostle and every male disciple a Mary of Magdala, a Martha and Mary, Joanna, Suzanna, Mary the wife of Clopas. Mary the mother of James and John. There is a prophetess, Anna.
Despite the limitedness of the bible, women hold key positions. They are Queens and wield power. There are mothers who are important in their own right. There are wives who hold sway. They are essential for certain outcomes. They are often seen prudent counsellors, wise women. They are seen as strong, where men are fickle and devious and two faced; they are straightforward and stable.
Today in the first reading we hear of another way women are presented, that step out of the shadows, if you like. Wisdom in the Old Testament is often personified as being like a wise woman. Although at first it sounds a bit condescending – happy the husband of a good wife, his days will be lengthened; it seems to return to that patriarchal vision of a husband possessing, owning and getting a good wife as an ornament in his household. This reading in a sense is not really about a wife as a possession or an ornament or an add on, but it is really more radical; wisdom that can be seen as being like a wise woman. It recognises the qualities of a wise woman: hard work, organisation, perceptiveness, far seeing, conscientious are the things in wisdom itself.
The reading seems to say as you might want to take advice of a wise woman, listen to her, be in her company, get to know, she will teach you wisdom in your life. How to be wise How to do wise things. How to make make wise decisions. Like a wuise woman oif you listen to her and learn from her she will guide you and teach you how to be wise, how to do the right thing in your life.
There is an even greater thing here. Over and over again Wisdom is portrayed as aspect of the divine. God is all Wise. God sees all. God knows all. God cannot be fooled, God sees the heart searches the depth. But this wisdom is always presented as a woman, a wise woman whose counsel is to be sought. The image is not accidental or plucked from the trees. This reading for all the human construction, and for all that it is rooted in a particular culture and time frees itself to say something radical about the mystery of God. God is presented to us in the bible not just in masculine, fatherly terms, patriarchal terms (a mighty king, a conquering warrior, the head of a household, family or tribe) but God chooses to present himself to us in in feminine aspect, in a womanly way, as a woman who sits at the gate, who dispenses wise advice, who shows the way, whose wisdom is to be sought out by searchers, by the confused, by those eager for knowledge. God is identified as the woman who gives that wisdom that people eagerly search for who hunger and thirst for. God presents himself to us in terms we can understand – a father who acres for us and a woman who counsels us and gives us wisdom.
There are certain books of the Old Testament that deal with Wisdom. How to be wise. What to say. How to decide between right and wrong. The book of Wisdom, the psalms, Ecclesiasticus and Proverbs, which we have read from today, would be one such books. And very often all these books they return to this idea of womanly wisdom. Good advice, balanced judgements, acting properly, dealing justly. The wise women dispenses wisdom, the sensible person inclines their ear to hear it.
For the person who takes advice and heeds this wisdom – the end result is a wise heart, a clear mind, a person who is not impulsive, someone who is able to balance things properly in life between different conflicting moral goods – the moral good for themselves, the moral good for other people, knowing what to do is right.
Who doesn’t need wisdom to see the wood from the trees. To distinguish between the important and unimportant. Who doesn’t need wisdom to see what is right from wrong. Who doesn’t need wisdom to know when to speak and when to remain silent?. Who doesn’t need wisdom to protect us from rising passions, fluctuating moods. Wisdom stops us putting our foot in it. Wisdom finds the right words to say. Wisdom sorts out things in our head.
The Scriptures speak of God in these terms as having fatherly care and being womanly wise. Over and again we are shown that we need that fatherly care but so often we are also in need of his womanly wisdom.