On Sunday, the 21st Sunday of the Year, we conclude our semi-continuous reading of the letter to the Ephesians that has been a feature of the Liturgy of the Word at Sunday Mass for some weeks.
And we conclude with a reading that many might find off-putting, that seems to offend against the dignity of women.
As you read it, what do you notice?
Where do you hear the voice of the gospel, the truth and love of God?
Give way to one another in obedience to Christ. Wives should regard their husbands as they regard the Lord, since as Christ is head of the Church and saves the whole body, so is a husband the head of his wife; and as the Church submits to Christ, so should wives to their husbands, in everything.
Husbands should love their wives just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her to make her holy. He made her clean by washing her in water with a form of words, so that when he took her to himself she would be glorious, with no speck or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and faultless.
In the same way, husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies; for a man to love his wife is for him to love himself. A man never hates his own body, but he feeds it and looks after it; and that is the way Christ treats the Church, because it is his body – and we are its living parts.
For this reason, a man must leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one body. This mystery has many implications; but I am saying it applies to Christ and the Church.
The reading speaks of freedom to love, of freedom to serve. If the reading has been used to justify oppression and subjugation of women to men, all the more reason to reclaim the reading from those who have used it for ill-effect.
Paul speaks of wives submitting to husbands, but also of husbands making themselves servants to their wives. Christ loves the Church and the Church is to love Christ and serve the world. There is no room in this mutual love for power games, only service, love, care.
The self-emptying that characterises Christ in his love for the world is our calling too: be we married, single, separated, divorced, widowed. Our service must be our only boast.
- What helps you love?
- What makes you hold back?
- How do you react to being loved?
Image depicting the sacrament of Marriage, from the ‘Sacraments Door’ of St Peter’s, Rome. © 2014, Allen Morris.