One of the most disliked and uncomfortable church services for me is Mother’s Day. Before you stop reading, at least hear me out. This isn’t because I dislike all the fancy hats, though if I am being honest, they do look quite silly. It isn’t because I dislike all the “weekend warriors” who come out for this service once a year and then stay home the other 51, though if I am being honest, that does annoy me. It’s not even because it makes me miss my own mother who passed away 10 years ago, even though I do. I think these are all good reasons to dislike Mother’s Day, but there is something else that bothers me more: the frequent use of Proverbs 31 to describe a woman. I don’t know about you, but I feel uncomfortable because it seems the pastor is essentially saying only the good women are those who do everything in this passage and everyone else needs to get to work! You have to admit, the bar is set pretty high when Proverbs 31 is read as a standard for human behavior. If as a man these sermons make me nervous, I can only wonder how women feel!
Now, I realize all pastors don’t inelegantly phrase their sermons in such a way, most pastors are far more subtle than that. They will usually say something about how their wife is a Proverbs 31 woman, or how the women in this church are Proverbs 31 women, or some other nonsense. But let’s be honest, when was the last time any woman you know was selling flax and wool before dawn, buying fields, planting vineyards, making her own clothes, giving to the needy, offering hospitality to the poor and homeless, supplying the local businesses with elegant drapes and clothing, taking care of all the children of her house, managing the household finances, and giving wise council to those who sit at her feet? I love my mother, but given this standard, she was not a Proverbs 31 woman. And, I mean no offense to any women reading this, I have never met anyone matching the Proverbs 31 woman standard…and probably never will.
The reason I don’t think I’ll ever meet a Proverbs 31 woman is that I don’t think Proverbs 31 is really about women. I don’t think it was written to tell us how women are supposed to behave or present a standard for which one should aim. I think it is about something altogether different. But, wait a minute! This post isn’t about Proverbs 31, it’s about Psalm 15. (Maybe someday I’ll write about Proverbs 31, but for now, on to Psalm 15)! Like Proverbs 31, I don’t think Psalm 15 is about standard we need to meet before we can dwell in God’s sacred tent or live on his holy mountain. I think it’s also about something else entirely.
Look quickly at Psalm 14 and you will find the psalmist just finished saying there were no righteous people on the earth; everyone has gone astray and does evil; everyone has rejected God; no one does good. But then he says in verse 5, “God is present in the company of the righteous.” But wait a minute! If no one is righteous, then who is the “company” of righteous with whom God is present? I don’t think it make a whole lot of sense unless you read Psalm 14:7 in light of Psalm 15.
The psalmist cries for salvation in 14:7 then in Psalm 15 tells us the best person you could ever possibly imagine is the only person worthy of salvation; he is the only person who can dwell in God’s presence. Here we sit as the worst of all people knowing only the best of all people are able to enter God’s holy and amazing presence. But unless I’m wrong, given the criteria required to enter into the best place in all of creation, God’s presence, I think it will be pretty empty, you know what I mean?
If you’ve been following my Psalm Meditations you will know I think the book of Psalms has a larger thematic structure than can be found in any individual psalm. The surrounding context and their place in the larger corpus of The Psalms is what enables us to understanding the meaning of each psalm. Psalm 15 is no exception. While Psalm 15 might help us understanding the sort of person God wants in his presence, it also shows we don’t measure up. Read in isolation we could easily walk away from it like those women on Mother’s Day and say “that’s nice, but too bad I’m not that person.”
You are certainly free to disagree with my analysis of this chapter (and my hints about Proverbs 31 as well), but I would like to suggest Psalm 15 tells us, in response to the request for salvation in chapter 14, what our salvation will look like; or rather, who. Our salvation will come in the form of a perfect person. He will treat all others equitably. He will be righteous on his own basis, and able to enter into the presence of God. More importantly, however, he will invite all of us evil and ignorant people from this vile earth to join him. Psalm 15, as a standard is quite disheartening, but read in the context of the surrounding chapters is a description, and let me tell you, as one vile person to another, is quite promising.