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Mother Wisdom Loves Ya!


Passage: Proverbs 31:10-27

Speaker: Rev. Dr. Stephen Graham

In college we loved Mama Sid! She and her husband, a black couple in their 80’s, owned Herb’s Hot Roast Beef, a small counter-diner. By the time we came along in the fall of 1967, Sid ran the diner alone. Herb had suffered a stroke and lived upstairs in a small apartment. Sid gave good care to him and the diner day and night.

As I recall, the menu at Herb’s had only one item: seasoned, tender roast beef served on a rye bun for 25 cents. A dollar’s worth was a feast. There were two decisions you could make: whether you wanted it wet or dry with hot or plain mustard. I preferred wet adding my own hot mustard and salt and pepper.

The sandwiches were well worth the drive from our campus to a neighborhood south of the tracks. But as good as they were that wasn’t reason enough for you to stand and wait for a place at the 12-stool counter. We went to enjoy Sid, a delightful and gifted conversationalist! The moment Rick Hall, Steve Seelig and I walked through the door, she’d begin putting on the charm, “Well, look who’s here, my three favorite guys!” She said the same line to every customer who came in, but it didn’t matter. We soaked it up.

I was always a tad bit jealous about how she’d flirt and carry on with my friend, Seelig. She was loyal in her affection for him. In her eyes, Rick and I were just chopped liver. She gave Seelig way too much attention, “Oh, Steven, I’ve missed those dark, beautiful eyes of yours!”

After our sandwiches and bottled Coke, we’d pay at the end of the counter and as we left, Mama Sid would call out, “Mother loves ya! Come see me, and if you can’t come send your money!”

That’d make a great stewardship theme, “We love ya! Come see us, and if you can’t come, send you money.”

Sid may be the first person that I had ever met who embodied this Proverb about Lady Wisdom. In the Message, Eugene Peterson describes this woman as being a person who sensed the worth of her work and was never in a hurry to call it quits at the end of a day (31.)

This woman was hard at work:

Our text tells Mama Sid’s story. Her willingness and ability were evident from the minute we walked into the diner until we left. It moves me to think about her devotion and care for Herb upstairs. Engaging with Sid was an existential moment in time that may have very well shaped my theology of mutual submission and the priesthood of all believers.

The wife in Proverbs 31 is not in the kitchen scrubbing dishes and biting her tongue (verse 22)! The very reason her husband is well known is because of her, not vice versa (v.23). She succeeds in business by selling her goods for a profit (verse 24) (My friend, Dr. Larry Dye who loved to say he tended to buy high and sell low!) He’d call and say, “Come over and see what you want! It’s yours for 10 cents on the dollar!)

This woman does not simply succeed in business and domestic duties. She “opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy” (verse 20). She is far from silent. She speaks wisdom and teaches kindness, literally, the torah of hesed is on her tongue, v.26. Her strength is moral as well as physical (8:14).

I am indebt to Rachel Held Evans and her study based upon this passage. She encourages women to not let it be just another way to set an impossible standard by which to mark their shortcomings.

Womanhood is not just about marriage, motherhood, and domesticity. It is clearly about character that transcends both gender and circumstance. 

We are given a picture of wisdom in action. The poem praises the everyday achievements of an upper-class Jewish wife, who keeps her household functioning day and night by buying, trading, investing, planting, sewing, spindling, managing servants, extending charity, providing food for the family, and preparing for each season.  The purpose of this poem is to draw attention to the often-overlooked glory of the everyday.

Interestingly, in the Jewish custom it is not the women who memorize Proverbs 31, but the men.

They memorize it to sing it as a song of praise to the women in their lives—their wives, daughters, sisters, mothers, and friends.

The first line of this poem— “a virtuous woman who can find?”—is best translated, “a woman of valor, of strength, of capability, of excellence, who can find?”  Woman of valor, eshet chayil! The poem describes the very actions it deems worthy for us to cheer, and bless, and celebrate; promotions and pregnancies, acts of mercy and justice. A hearty eshet chayil, woman of valor, like the Jewish, “You go girl!”

Valor isn’t about what you do, but how you do it. Whatever you do, do it all with valor. 

Like Ruth, a destitute foreigner whose daily work involved gathering, threshing, and winnowing wheat. Not at all like the life of the woman depicted in Proverbs 31. 

Ruth was widowed. She didn’t spend her days making clothes for her husband.

Ruth's children didn’t rise up and call her blessed. She was childless. 

Ruth didn’t spend her days exchanging fine linens with the merchants. She worked all day in the sun, gleaning leftovers from other people's fields; a provision made for the poorest of the poor in Israel.  

And yet guess what Boaz says of Ruth before she gets married, before she has a child, before she becomes a wealthy and influential woman:  

“All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character” (Ruth 3:11). 

The Hebrew that's used there is “eshet chayil" - woman of valor. 

Ruth is a woman of valor, not because she checked off some Proverbs 31 to-do list, but because she lived her life with incredible bravery, wisdom, and strength.  She lived her life with valor. 

Like Sarah, and Deborah, and Esther, and Mary Magdalene, and Martha, and Priscilla, and Phoebe.

Like the women of valor in your life and around the world who are bringing their unique gifts, insights, passions, and callings to bring hope and healing to the world.

Like our friend, Sid, from a long time ago.

On Friday, April 4, 1968, early in the evening, Rick Hall, Steve Seelig, and I were the only customers at the counter of Herb’s Hot Roast Beef. We were enjoying Sid. She was particularly engaging. Her conversation was stimulating.

She had just served us our hot roast beef sandwiches when a handsome black teenager rushed into the diner. With fear and anger in his eyes, he said, “Mama Sid, they’ve shot the King!”

She took him in her arms for a good long moment. And then she turned to us, “You boys need to get in your cars and get back to the campus.”

In her wisdom, she knew we all had a very long way to go.

Sadly, I confess, we still have a long way to go.

It is urgent and important to remember, “Mother loves ya.”

It is urgent and important to remember Mother Wisdom loves ya!

Let us pray: Lord, and Loving God, the world in which we live demands that we give our best selves like this remarkable woman who gives herself for the well-being of her family, her community and the world in which she lives. In the name of Christ, our Lord, we pray. Amen.