I’ll be honest: every time I attended a wedding and one of the readings is Ephesians 5, I always lose my attention and focus. This is due to the fact that, instead of listening to the Word of God, I become fascinated by watching the reactions of those around me.
And the facial expressions normally do not disappoint. After all, at first glance, the reading from Ephesians 5 contains some rather strong words, including plenty of what would be considered “triggering” language, in the eyes of the modern world.
The words I refer to are these: “Wives, be subject to your husband, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife… so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands” (Ephesians 5:22-24).
But What Does Submission Mean?
Women are naturally repulsed by this language of “subjection.” After all, we do not support dominating, overbearing men in relationships. We most definitely do not support abusive relationships, or relationships in which women are forced to do anything without their consent. We live in a culture where female independence rings out loud and clear on the lips of many.
While the word “subject” often reminds us of this negative connotation and causes us to think that this is a degrading message to femininity, the Word of God is speaking of an entirely different reality.
The true nature of this “subjection” is made apparent through the realization that Marriage is the most perfect reflection we have on earth of the love between Christ and the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that:
the Sacrament of Matrimony signifies the union of Christ and the Church. -CCC 1661
The key to this is actually found within Ephesians 5. We just normally turn off our ears before we have the chance to hear it.
An Image of Christ and His Church
“As the Church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:24-25).
When commanding husbands to love their wives, Saint Paul uses the Greek word agape. This type of love signifies the highest form of love: self-sacrificial love which continually wills the good of the other.
This is the type of love that is described of Jesus having for us. This is the love that saved us from our sins. This is the love that drove Jesus to the Cross.
And this is the love demanded of husbands for their wives.
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Agape Eradicates Disorder
It becomes clear then, that when this true agape love is present, it would be inconceivable to pair it with oppression and degradation of women. Agape love would never permit harm toward the beloved, as it is a type of love that wills the good of the beloved. It is the love of a righteous and holy husband. It is the love of Jesus. Jesus’s love would never oppress, force, or humiliate a woman.
The subjection, therefore, that is asked of the wife, is not a subjection of tyranny and force, but a submission of humility and respect. When a wife truly believes that her husband loves her with the love of Christ, it becomes natural for her to trust him and follow his lead. No man is perfect, and we will all make mistakes. But we know when the other is trying to model their love from the love of Christ. If a husband and wife come to a disagreement, but the wife knows that her husband loves her with an agape love (and she him), she can trust him, and he her.
Trust and Reverence
This kind of trust is a challenge. One of the gravest effects of Original Sin was the lessening of man’s ability to trust, both in God and in other men. We experience brokenness and hurt in our relationships, and it becomes difficult for us, as women, to follow and trust someone other than ourselves. Trusting someone opens us up to the possibility of being hurt. Trust runs the risk of being betrayed.
Trust is not easy. Trusting will not always leave us unhurt. But it is worth it. Trust is not a weakness, but a strength.
The Call of Men
Our marriages, therefore, have a goal: agape love. Women are called to express submission to their husband, as the Church submits to Christ.
But men are not off the hook. The love that is demanded of them is great, just as that which is demanded of the woman is great as well.
So next time you’re at a wedding, don’t get sidetracked by the glances and rolling of eyes. Instead, meditate on the fact that in Marriage we have been given the chance to witness the love and self-gift of Jesus Christ in our modern day. The truest form of subjection of wife to husband is not a weakness on the part of the woman, but a massive strength which requires patience, humility, and trust. And the same can be said of a man’s self-sacrifice on behalf of the good of the woman. I pray that we, as men and women, may live up to our call!
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Mary Grace “Gracie” Tillman is a full-time student and full-time extrovert. If you don’t find her with her friends, odds are she’s lost on a backroad with her music all the way up. She loves sports, writing, one-on-ones over coffee, and all things related to Divine Mercy. She strives to life live every day to the fullest and be a joyful disciple of Jesus.