Monday, August 28, 2006

Ephesians Five

Last weekend, the readings in the reformed Roman rite dealt with what the gospel called "hard sayings." I was a lay reader at my parish on Saturday evening, and it has occured to me to reflect on the experience here.

In the first reading from the Book of Joshua, he challenges the Israelites to choose whom they will serve: "As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." (Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b) The gospel reading, as is the pattern at this time in the liturgical cycle, deals with Christ as the bread of life, of the need to eat His flesh and drink His blood to gain eternal life. (As some of you know, for Our Lord to compare Himself to the Passover Lamb, was a bit more than the majority of His followers could take.)

But the real bone of alleged contention was in the second reading, that infamous passage from the fifth chapter of Paul's letter to the Ephesians (Eph 5:21-32).

"Brothers and sisters:
Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ."

With the first sentence of this reading, Paul sets the stage for the big picture, the obligations of each toward the other. (Emphasis is added in some places, for readers with incurably short attention spans.)

"Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.
For the husband is head of his wife
just as Christ is head of the church,
he himself the savior of the body.
As the church is subordinate to Christ,
so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything."

The above is framed in reference of both parties being submissive to one another. Thus the obligations of the wife might be seen in the proper context. But unlike some of the one-dimensional twits who read this thing, Paul doesn't stop there, as he reserves his stronger and more elaborated admonition for the husband.

"Husbands, love your wives,
even as Christ loved the church
and handed himself over for her to sanctify her,
cleansing her by the bath of water with the word,
that he might present to himself the church in splendor,
without spot or wrinkle or any such thing,
that she might be holy and without blemish.
So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.
He who loves his wife loves himself.
For no one hates his own flesh
but rather nourishes and cherishes it,
even as Christ does the church,
because we are members of his body."

To put it another way, Paul challenges the husband to lay down his life for his beloved (like Christ did -- you know, that whole nailed-to-the-cross-and-dying-for-our-sins thing???), an obligation which he does not make of the wife. Try telling that to the feministas doing the arm-twisting in parishes across the land last weekend.

Between the two parts of the reading, Paul sets out to distinguish the role of each, as well as how one complements the other. But if one only speaks of the role of the husband (as is called for in the limp-wristed short form), the proper context is lost, as is the whole point of the text. All this to placate people who, by their own tacit admission, don't know of this distinction to begin with.

"For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.
This is a great mystery,
but I speak in reference to Christ and the church."

I didn't have the chance to check with the priest to see if the above would pass muster with him. Fortunately, I blew off the dime-store theologian posing as a sacristan (see earlier post today entitled "Ad Random") and went and read it anyway. As fortune would have it, the good Father told me after Mass he would have directed me to read the long form anyway. My instincts about him were correct, and I got a record number of three compliments on my delivery -- two of them from women. (A majority. Hah!)

The message is not about just men, or just women, but about a community of love, one inspired by God's love for His people, Christ's love for His Church, and a man's love for his wife. After all, one of the many gifts of Christendom is the protocol of a man giving up his place in the lifeboat for women and children.

Concerning the latter, one must wonder whether there any complaints among "liberated" women of which we are aware.



Patrick said...

Thanks and amen, DLA. Makes you almost wish orthdox laymen could preach more often, eh.

- Patrick

Robin said...

This is an outstanding post.

(And I'm a woman.)

S.H. said...

I like the broader reading you're giving this...

Nârwen said...

Actually, they probably would disagree with the lifeboat protocol, inasmuch as it affects women. Giving up one's seat for a child would be acceptable to them, inasmuch as children are inherently less capable than adults, but giving up one's seat for a woman implies,in their view, that she is less capable than a man. They would see it as treating women as if they were children.