Once upon a time, Joe, Bob and Dave are hiking in a wilderness. They come upon a large, raging, violent river. They need to get to the other side, but have no idea of how to do so. Joe prays to God. “Please God, give me the strength to cross this river.” Poof! God gives him big arms and strong legs. He swims across the river in two hours. Seeing this, Dave prays to God. “Please God, give me the strength and the tools to cross this river.” Poof! God gives him a rowboat. He rows across the river in about an hour. Bob sees how this works out for the other two, so he prays to God. “Please God, give me the strength and the tools, and the intelligence, to cross this river.” Poof! God turns him into a woman. She looks at the map, hikes upstream a couple of hundred yards and walks across the bridge.
How do they do it? How does the Woman of Proverbs keep the household in such good shape? How do the two Investors of the Gospel multiply their investments? In the words of the religious writer Alice Camille, “fortitude.” They all have fortitude: it means “determined, strong and courageous.” We can say that they are “fortitudinous.” Look at the odds against them.
The worthy wife beyond pearls keeps the house clean, cooks the food, cares for the poor, spins the clothes, gardens the yard, raises the children, and, yes, even runs a business out of her house. What is NOT included in our Proverbs reading is that her husband is a prominent person at the “city gates as he sits with the elders of the land.” Quit possibly he is a judge since judges sit at the city gates to hear peoples’ lawsuits. According to Alice Camille, since he sits everyday at the gates with his political buddies he needs her to pay the bills and to give him wise instruction on some cases. In the end, he praises her for her fortitude!
The good and faithful servants quintuple and double their investments. If there is a stock market they then own seats on the stock exchange. They trade with others and grow their investments. They know that the master is generous but he is also demanding, probably a “Type A” personality, an alpha male. The master not only wants them to do their jobs. He wants 500% production. Because of their fortitude, the master rewards the investors with partnerships in the household.
But the story does not end here. There is one more servant who is not fortitudinous but fearful. Alice Camille says that fortitude “pushes and progresses.” “Fear hides and freezes.” This is exactly what the lazy servant does- he hides his money. He freezes his productivity and makes no investment. Such wailing and such grinding of teeth to be so fearful, so apprehensive, so lacking in the Spirit of God!
What is the lesson for us today? God does not give us a timid or fearful Spirit. When the Lord returns at the Second Coming, or when sister death arrives at our doorstep, will God find us still investing in the kingdom? God wants us to be strong, determined and courageous. Where there is darkness, turn on the Light. Where there is night, expose the day. Where there is fear, uncover the fortitude. And for God’s sake, stay busy.
What strengthens us on the journey is the heavenly food of every Eucharist. The value of fortitudinous people is far beyond pearls especially when the Lord shows us how to cross the river at the bridge!
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket Franks, O.S.B.
The 33rd Sunday