Those of us who follow the lectionary have encountered the industrious woman of Proverbs 31 many times. Every three years she appears with her wool and flax, her distaff and spindle, her keen eye for both fashion and a good deal, her open hand to the poor, and her penchant for providing her husband bragging rights at the city gates. But we haven’t always welcomed her.
I left seminary in the early 1980s with every intention of ridding the church of unhealthy gender stereotypes like that of the virtuous wife. Those were the days when newly minted pastoral theologians like me were sniffing out all traces of masculine preference—in hymns, in prayers and especially in scripture. The New Revised Standard Version (copyright 1989) was in the works. Brothers addressed in the epistles would soon become brothers and sisters, and Jesus would not be calling disciples to become fishers of men but urging, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people” (Mark 1:17).