Give her of the fruit of her hands,
And let her own works praise her in the gates.
I always felt my late wife was underappreciated for all that she did. She was a professor, a social worker, a mother to her own and others' children, a counselor and friend of families of children with disabilities. She loved the Lord and wanted her son to grow up loving Him, too. And she did all of that without accolade or recognition while facing disability and discrimination herself. My late wife was a lovely and passionate woman who went home to the Lord too soon, and she didn't receive much praise until after she was gone.
We are a society that is remarkably stingy with praise. Despite all that someone may do for us or alongside us, we only grudgingly acknowledge their contributions. While our schools work to instill a sense of self-worth in all students through frequent praise and varied awards, our society as a whole tends to reward fame and fortune to those who do the least for society. Have you ever heard of a firefighter with a multi-million-dollar salary like a professional basketball player? When was the last time that the great work of an individual police officer made the headlines on page 1 of any newspaper? Our supposed "role models" are no longer those who selflessly serve society, no longer the heroes of peace time or war. Our idols these days are singers and actors and people who play professional sports. Even our legislative representatives get less of our attention and respect than the latest "American Idol" or reality show star. If Shakespeare were living today, I think his Mark Antony would say "The evil that men do is celebrated, and good people are utterly ignored." (See Act II, Scene 3 of "Julius Caesar.")
But today's verse from the very end of the book of Proverbs tries to tell us a different story. Look at it again.
Proverbs 31:31 (New International Version)
Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
Please note that this is no longer about the virtuous woman but about our reaction to her. This is not about how she (or any good person) is to act, but about how society is to notice and treat such people. Solomon is giving us two different but related ideas.
First, he tells us to give her what she has earned with her hands - the fruit of her labors. If she labors to put food on the table, do not begrudge her that food. If she works to bring freedom to her family, then give her freedom. In short: follow the lead of the virtuous woman, and don't work against her but with her. Too often, we each go our own way, never realizing that we all seek safety and security and love. If there is one among us who points toward God, then we ought to not only remove the obstacles to her goals, we ought to go along with her.
The second thing we see here concerns reputation. In ancient societies, it was not unusual for wealthy and respected men to sit by the city gates, screening newcomers, interacting with locals, and generally getting and sharing news. If you remember the story of Ruth, you'll remember that Boaz had to go to the city gate to speak to his relatives about redeeming Ruth's inheritance. (Ruth 4:1-12) But do you remember what Boaz had said to Ruth the day before that?
10 Then he said, "Blessed are you of the LORD, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich.
11 "And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman."
The little that Ruth had done - in being faithful and caring for her mother-in-law Naomi - had already won her a reputation among "all the people of my town" as "a virtuous woman." Would such deeds accomplish that today? Not very likely.
So the call in the second part of today's verse is to recognize virtue, to acknowledge faith. But we are not to honor faithfulness and virtue simply to reward the faithful, we are to acknowledge the faithful as models for how we ought to live. The woman who lives a fruitful life and whose deeds bring her praise, she is to be the role model for us all. Yes, by all means, allow her the work of her hands and let her deeds praise her at the city gates, but more importantly, follow her lead! Live fruitful lives, perform worthy deeds, see with eyes of faith, live in the spirit, put God and others first. If we are faithful to God and His commandments, we shall have our reward both here and in heaven.
Yes, my wife was underappreciated in her lifetime, but she as not unfruitful. On the contrary, her life has had a profound influence on my life, prompting me to do more, to see deeper, to live more faithfully. The fruit of my wife's labors will be seen in the children she cared for, the students she inspired, the family who carries her memory into the next generation. That is how we honor such a woman, by becoming the living fruit of her hands, and by allowing any praise we receive to become praise of our Lord and Savior, without whom none of this would be possible.
Lord God, I thank You for the roles played by faithful people everywhere, people who influence us to live better and more fruitful lives for You. I praise YOU, O Lord, for their lives, for their virtue, for their good deeds. Teach me, Father, to live such a life, to reflect Your goodness and mercy into the world, to be salt and light. Forgive my sins and mold me into the image of Your Son, Christ Jesus, my Lord and my Savior. Amen.