Pope John Paul II
April 10, 1996
Old Testament and the Judaic tradition are full of acknowledgements
of woman's moral nobility, which is expressed above all in an
attitude of trust in the Lord, in prayer to obtain the gift of
motherhood and in imploring God for Israel's salvation from the
assaults of its enemies. Sometimes, as in Judith's case, this
quality is celebrated by the entire community, becoming the object
of common admiration.
Beside the shining examples of the biblical heroines, the negative
witnesses of some women are not lacking: such as Delilah who
destroys Samson's prophetic ability (Jgs
16:4-21), the foreign women who in Solomon's old age turn the king's
heart away from the Lord and make him worship other gods (1 Kgs
11:1-8), Jezebel who kills all "the prophets of the Lord" (1 Kgs
18:13) and has Naboth killed, to give his vineyard to Ahab (1 Kgs
21), and Job's wife who insults him in his misfortune and spurs him
to rebel (Jb 2:9).
cases, the woman's conduct is reminiscent of Eve's. However, the
prevailing outlook in the Bible is that inspired by the
Proto-Gospel, which sees in woman an ally of God.
feminine figure is a precious gift of the Lord
In fact, if foreign women were accused of turning Solomon away from
his devotion to the true God the Book of Ruth presents us instead
with the most noble figure of a foreign woman: Ruth, the Moabite, an
example of piety to her relatives and of sincere and generous
humility. Sharing Israel's life and faith, she was to become David's
great grandmother and an ancestor of the Messiah. Matthew, inserting
her in Jesus' genealogy (Mt
1:5), makes her a sign of universality and a proclamation of God's
mercy which extends to all humanity.
Jesus' forebears, the first Evangelist also mentions Tamar, Rahab
and Uriah's wife, three sinful but not wicked women who are listed
among the female ancestors of the Messiah, in order to proclaim that
divine goodness is greater than sin. Through his grace, God causes
their irregular matrimonial situations to contribute to his plans of
salvation, thereby also preparing for the future.
Another example of humble dedication, different from Ruth's, is
represented by Jephthah's daughter, who agrees to pay for her
father's victory over the Ammonites with her own death (Jgs
11:34-40). Lamenting her cruel destiny, she does not rebel but gives
herself up to death in fulfillment of the thoughtless vow made by
her parent in the context of primitive customs that were still
prevalent (cf. Jer 7:31; Mi 6:6-8).
Although sapiential literature frequently alludes to woman's
defects, it perceives in her a hidden treasure: "He who finds a wife
finds a good thing, and obtains favour from the Lord" (Prov
18:22), says the Book of Proverbs, expressing convinced appreciation
of the feminine figure, a precious gift of the Lord.
the end of the same book the portrait of the ideal woman is
sketched. Far from representing an unattainable model, she is a
concrete image born from the experience of women of great value: "A
good wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels..." (Prov
Sapiential literature sees in woman's fidelity to the divine
covenant the culmination of her abilities and the greatest source of
admiration. Indeed, although she can sometimes disappoint, woman
transcends all expectations when her heart is faithful to God:
"Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the
Lord is to be praised" (Prov
was worthy of honourable memory
this context, the Book of the Maccabees, in the story of the mother
of the seven brothers martyred during Antiochus Epiphanes'
persecution, holds up to us the most admirable example of nobility
describing the death of the seven brothers, the sacred author adds:
"The mother was especially admirable and worthy of honourable
memory. Though she saw her seven sons perish within a single day,
she bore it with good courage because of her hope in the Lord. She
encouraged each of them in the language of their fathers. Filled
with a noble spirit, she fired her woman's reasoning with a man's
courage", thus expressing her hope in a future resurrection:
"Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man
and devised the origin of all things will in his mercy give life and
breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the
sake of his laws" (2 Mc 7:20-23).
her seventh son to submit to death rather than disobey the divine
law, the mother expresses her faith in the work of God who creates
all things from nothing: "I beseech you, my child to look at the
heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and
recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed.
Thus also mankind comes into being. Do not fear this butcher, but
prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in the time of
mercy I may get you back again with your brothers" (2 Mc 7:28-29).
gives herself up to a bloody death, after suffering torture of the
heart seven times, witnessing to steadfast faith, boundless hope and
figures of woman, in whom the marvels of divine grace are manifest,
we glimpse the one who will be the greatest: Mary, Mother of the
L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, April 17, 1996.
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