Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Who has the authority?

Going with the Roman Catholic passage...

Ephesians 5:21-33

21Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. 24Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. 25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, 27so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. 28In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30because we are members of his body. 31“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. 33Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.

I've chosen this Ephesians passage because I think it all too often gets used inappropriately. I once attended a wedding in which the bride was told that according to the law of God, she would be sinful if she did not submit fully to the desires of the groom. Of course nothing was mentioned to the groom about loving the bride as he would love himself.

That, and interpretations like it are dangerous, to say the least.

Immediately my mind jumps to asking what was going on in Ephesus that lead the writer of Ephesians to comment on household relationships (he also goes on to discuss children and slaves).

This section might be better understood in the larger understanding of how first century households were to be ordered. Among that, Paul describes the nature of the relationship of Christ to the church, as if to use the example of the household to teach his first readers about how they should look on the purpose of the early church, and the relation of the believers to the teaching of Jesus.

So what about the misuse of v. 22-24? This reading really should focus on v. 21,"Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ" (NRSV). This verse is the foundation for what comes next, and gives meaning to the discussion of how women and men should relate to their spouses. Without this verse being included in the reading (as often is the case in some weddings I've attended), the language about women submitting to their husbands clearly can be misdirected.

But focusing on how we can be subject (servants) to one another out of respect for Christ brings back the language of Jesus about the last being first and the greatest among us being the servants. So what does this look like in a selfish and individualized western capitalist culture?

And the idea of the husband being the head of the household simply was the legal understanding of the time. Women, children and slaves could not own property, and therefore the Ephesians writer uses this understanding to set up Jesus as the "head" of the church, meaning it is Christ who is to be the one who has established the 'house'.

Do we still set up Jesus as the head of the church? Have we replaced his teachings with self-help programs and a generic faith, based on common morality but ignores justice, healing and community connection?

How do we encourage healthy households which might not be of the standard described here? Single parent homes, same-sex homes, extended family households? How does this passage apply to other forms of modern households?

Happy homilizing!

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