"Now we know that whatever the law says speaks to those who are subject to the law, so that every mouth may be shut and the whole world may become subject to God's judgment. For no flesh will be justified in His sight by works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin." Romans 3:19-20Consider with me the Pharisees of Jesus' time. They were the most righteous of men; schooled in the law, obedient to the law, esteemed by those around them. To be considered a Pharisee was to have honour among men. Today, to be a Pharisee has negative connotations, to be called one stings; we don't like the Pharisees, we know what Jesus thought of them.
And yet, in His sermon on the mount*, Jesus does not condemn the Pharisee's attempts at fulfilling the law. In fact He says, "Don't assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished."
You can imagine how the Pharisees felt hearing those words. Smug. Justified. Nodding their heads in firm agreement. They were on the right track; doing as they ought. But Jesus isn't finished, he goes on,
"Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commandments will be called great in the kingdom of heaven."
Do you think some of those Pharisees paused, considering whether they have broken any of the commands? Perhaps. But I still see the teachers of the law nodding their heads, agreeing and imagining being great in the kingdom of heaven.
Then Jesus says something that ought to have caused their heads to stand still, their pulses to quicken,
"For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."
Pan around the crowd and you can imagine the confused looks on the men's faces and they consider how they can surpass the law. Perhaps they look at their peers and consider ways they know another fails to measure up then stand a little prouder. But consider those who already knew they couldn't measure up to the scribes and Pharisees, their shoulders are slumped in defeat, their faces somber with the realization that even if they tried to measure up Jesus has told them they have to do better. Despair sets in.
For those who still think they've made the mark, have a place in the kingdom, Jesus zooms in on the heart,
"Anyone who is angry with his brother is subject to judgment...anyone who looks with lust has already committed adultery, ....go the second mile, ...love your enemies."
There are none in the crowd who can claim innocence. All are guilty. The standard has risen beyond any human attainment. The Pharisees have probably walked away by now. They've heard enough from Jesus, who does he think he is anyway? Who is is father? Conceived when his mother was unwed. They don't need to listen to him anymore.
But the others left standing, broken, helpless, defeated what are they to do? What can they do? The standard has been set and they can't even begin to meet it. They know they are sinners and the law cannot save them.
From this vantage point, let's consider the Proverbs 31 woman. Among Christian women, she is revered, to be called and example of a Proverbs 31 woman is an honour. We long to have our children rise up and call us blessed and to have our husbands praise us just as hers did. Our tasks seen through the lens of this scripture rise to heavenly heights and are priceless; worth more than rubies or diamonds.
The Proverbs 31 woman:
- Is completely trusted by her husband and rewards him with good, not evil each and every day of her life,
- Works with willing hands, brings her food from afar, rises while it is still night, and her lamp never goes out at night,
- Evaluates large investments and earns a return on them,
- Plants a vineyard, and is healthy and strong from all the hard work,
- Spins thread, sews plenty of clothing and bed coverings with fine linen for her family,
- Reaches out to the poor and offers a hand,
- Operates a home based business,
- Is not fearful and does not worry or get anxious,
- Anticipates and plans for her family's needs, watching over all the activities of her household,
- She has a good reputation among her husband's peers,
- Is clothed in strength and honour,
- Speaks wise words, has loving instruction and words of kindness
- Is never idle,
- Her sons call her blessed, her husband praises her,
- And she surpases all capable women.
My husband trusts me. Check.
I do him good not harm. Check. But not every day. Fail.
I do the grocery shopping. Check. But I forgot to take the meat out of the freezer for dinner. Fail. But I never rely on McDonald's to feed my family like that a woman I know, so Check.
I rise early. Check. Ooops, I pressed the snooze button 4 times and got up after my kids. Fail. I fall into bed late. Check.
I don't sew, but I do ensure my family is clothed for all seasons. Check. Wait a minute, what about that mending basket I never get to? Fail. But the woman down the street never seems to get the laundry done, so I should get a check.
My husband plants the garden. No check for that.
I'm idle during the day.
I lost my patience when my son asked for juice for the thirtieth time today.
My husband wondered why the house is such a mess when he came home.
I didn't even get a shower today.
Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail.
But the Proverbs 31 woman: she could do it all. And there seem to be so many women around me who eagerly embrace being a Proverbs 31 woman. What is wrong with me? I'm a failure. Hopeless. Defeated. Broken. A sinner. I cannot possibly begin to meet the standard this woman sets.
Perhaps, just as Jesus led those listening to the Sermon on the Mount to see that they could not fullfil the law, the Proverbs 31 woman is meant to lead us to the same conclusion and give us knowledge of our sin.
What if Proverbs 31 is not a standard we must attain - a way to please God and become righteous in His sight? A way to ensure our children will rise and bless us and have our husbands and others in the community praise us?
What if the whole point of Proverbs 31 is to say: You can't do it all!!!! If you think you can, this woman surpases them all! You can't surpass her. You can't surpass her.
A faint echo of this is heard in Jesus' words, "Unless you surpass the scribes and Paraisees..." Do you hear it? Unless, your righteousness surpases that of the Proverbs 31 woman you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Read the words of Jesus with fresh eyes,
"Those who are well don't need a doctor, but the sick do...For I didn't come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matthew 9:12, 13ff)The Proverbs 31 woman is not a standard of righteousness for us to follow so we can meet Jesus. What she can do is lead us to Jesus, showing us just how sick we are and just how deep our need for a Saviour is. Take her hand and let her lead you to Christ who extends his hands to us and says,
"Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up my yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and My burden is light.""But now, apart from the law, God's righteousness has been revealed - attested by the law and the Prophets - that is, God's righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. " Romans 3:21-24