21 SUNDAY 2012 B
Did you notice that in response to Jesus question: Do you want to leave me too? The Apostles did not say: No, of course we won’t leave you; but: To whom shall we go. Jesus Christ challenges us to the core of our being. His message challenges us to live a life of truth, a life of prayer, a life of justice, a life in harmony with Jesus Christ himself.
It challenges us, ultimately with the Cross. That is what causes the hesitation and the nervousness.
“This sort of talk is hard to endure.” “How can you take these words seriously?”
This question in the Gospel is actually a complaint about Jesus’ claim that he is food and drink, but it could just as easily serve as a comment on the passage from Ephesians heard before the Gospel. Talk about words hard to endure!
This Pauline passage certainly kindled a biblical wildfire. Most of us have huge problems with his absolute command: “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. … As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.” Talk about words hard to endure!
We all know of marriages lived in total violence; the husband is a chronic alcoholic and beats his children and his wife unmercifully. Does anyone feel like telling his wife that she needs to be subordinate to him?
We could simply reject Paul’s words here, but might we gain something by deeper reflection on this challenging passage? Where is the Good News in this passage?
We do need to sift what is the Word of God and what reflects Paul’s being a man of his times. He lives in a context of a culture that sees no equally of genders. Even today we have many examples in our contemporary world. Perhaps there is another way to think about the Second Reading. If a wife is to be subordinate to her husband, what is a husband?
Well, a husband is someone who loves his wife as Christ loved the church. He gives himself for her; he lives in such a way as to encourage his wife to be the very best person she can be.
If you influence your wife in a negative way through your self-centered attitude, why think you are a husband to her?
If you are involved in an extramarital affair, so that she gradually becomes a jealous, suspicious, nagging person, what have you done to her? If you are rarely present, at the soccer field, on the golf course, watching football on TV, so that she becomes lonelier and lonelier, what have you made of her? If you leave her all the housework and child care while you pursue your career, are you living self-sacrificially to enable her to be the best person she can be?
If you cause her to become bitter, less fruitful, less beautiful in soul, less joyful, than she would be without you, why would you think you are a husband to her? You may be married to her; but the truth for her, like the truth for the Samaritan woman Christ met at the well; the person she is now living with is not her husband.
But if there is no true husband –wife relationship then there is no command for her to be subordinate to you either. The command is to be subordinate to her husband, not to anybody who wants to claim the privilege of being her mate without any of the corresponding duties.
This section from Ephesians seems to have taken over these household codes from Hellenistic Judaism; from the culture of the time. The codes set forth the duties of wives, husbands, parents, children, masters, and slaves.
The primary principle of household codes is proper order in society and subjection in relationships that form the foundation of society. In the New Testament these codes are often given a Christian veneer generally by the addition of the words “in the Lord” to the injunctions. Occasionally, however, as in the present instance, the process of Christianization goes much further.
Ephesians provides a unique elaboration of marriage as a parable of the relation between Christ and his Church.
As a result, the marriage relationship is transformed from one in which the wife is simply subjected to the husband without qualification into one in which the husband is to devote himself unreservedly to the love of his wife.
Thus, the household code is turned upside down—the emphasis rests no longer on the duty of the wife to the husband but on the husband’s love for his wife.
The passage begins with the statement: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The author is convinced that in imitating Jesus, all Christians should somehow be subordinate to those around them. As followers of Jesus, both husbands and wives (not just the latter) are expected to be subordinate to one another.
It would appear the problem in the Ephesian church that prompted this passage didn’t revolve around the way wives were relating to their husbands; rather, it arose from the objectionable ways in which husbands were treating or dominating their wives.The author begins with a statement that does not shock his audience. In fact it is widely accepted in the culture. Women be subject to your husbands. Then the writer springs the trap: “Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh.”
If we can get beyond the annoyance of the language of the day, we see that Paul speaks of the mutuality of relationship which must have sounded completely radical to his contemporaries. Both husband and wife are to put the other first.
“Deference” and “reverence” are the main teaching. We must all respect one another. This is a hard saying, but it is a central teaching of Christ: “I came not to be served, but to serve.” If we love each other as we propose, we assuredly must die to ourselves. Domination has no place in any relationship. We are called to submit (put ourselves under) to the other. But it is a submission of love, free will, not of inferiority.