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Ephesians 5:21 for Feisty Gals

First Reading: Ephesians 5:21-33

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

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.
In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself,
and the wife should respect her husband.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5

R. (1a) Blessed are those who fear the Lord.
Blessed are you who fear the LORD,
who walk in his ways!
For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork;
blessed shall you be, and favored.
R. Blessed are those who fear the Lord.
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
in the recesses of your home;
Your children like olive plants
around your table.
R. Blessed are those who fear the Lord.
Behold, thus is the man blessed
who fears the LORD.
The LORD bless you from Zion:
may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life.
R. Blessed are those who fear the Lord.

Gospel: Luke 13:18-21

Jesus said, “What is the Kingdom of God like?
To what can I compare it?
It is like a mustard seed that a man took and planted in the garden.
When it was fully grown, it became a large bush
and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches.”

Again he said, “To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God?
It is like yeast that a woman took
and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour
until the whole batch of dough was leavened.”

NAB

oct-25

The Protestant minister who did pre-marital counseling with my sister and her husband explained Ephesians 5:21-32 thusly: Say a married couple is buying a car. The husband wants a green car, and the wife wants a brown car. Saint Paul says the wife needs to let the husband decide which color car to buy. And Saint Paul says the husband needs to decide to buy a brown car.

And that’s cute. It makes me smile. And while it’s certainly an oversimplification, there is truth to it. It’s easy to read “wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything” and be so flabbergasted you miss the part where it says “husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.” I would even argue that Saint Paul is giving husbands the more difficult task here. It is certainly a challenge to do what you’re told. It’s even more difficult to willingly choose to do what’s best for another person over yourself.

But the feisty gal in me can’t help but chafe at it a bit, even so. Why, with such a beautiful foundational understanding of the equal purpose and dignity of men and women in the eyes of God espoused by the Jesus and the Catholic Church, would Saint Paul/the Holy Spirit even feel the need to set in stone that “the husband is head of his wife”?! Some husbands are dummies, right? (Not mine. Mine is a genius. And handsome. And SO patient. And I’m not sure whether he reads these or not.)

I think the answer can be found in the Church’s understanding of obedience and hierarchy. The buck has to stop somewhere. We all love and respect and serve one another. But, unlike our Protestant brothers and sisters, we believe in a chain of command, stretching from the Pope through the Cardinals and Bishops, forking out to Religious Superiors and Pastors, through the heads of families to the smallest child. Someone has to be the head of the family, and that someone is the husband. Not because he is better, or because he is worthy, but because it was he who was given the task.

As Saint Paul explains, Jesus’ redeeming spousal relationship with the Church is reflected in the relationship of husbands and wives.

For fifteen years now, I’ve been striving to honor and obey my husband, while he strives to nourish and cherish me. While I still bristle at the concept of submissiveness, in practice, it really has worked beautifully. My respect for my husband means that I trust him to have my interests at heart as he leads our family . . . including the recent purchase of a brown car.

If you’re still unsettled on this reading, please talk to a trusted priest and ask for some guidance. It’s a lot to tackle!

photo credit

Kendra Tierney is wife to a good man and mother to eight pretty good kids. Together they are fixing up a tumbledown hundred year old house. She’s a writer, and a blogger, and a graphic designer, and a homeschooler, and a regular schooler. Her word art is available here. Her book, A Little Book About Confession for Children, is available here. Find out more about her here.

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