“21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23 For 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. 24 Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, 27 so 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. 28 In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30 because 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.” 32 This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. 33 Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.” Ephesians 5:21-33
I chose to keep the heading from the New Revised Standard Version Today, because when I read this particular version, a question and answer immediately popped into my thinking. “Just what a Christian House-hold” in the sense of Spirituality. This passage is used and abused in the ages of time and still is in many regards. Some focus on the literal subject matter of the finite found in it, and miss the central message, which is Christ, and His example expressed within. It is the attitude of “The Divine Heart of God” as expressed by the artist in today’s painting.
To fully understand the passage, once again let me remind you that we must put the passage into the greater context of the letter, and more specifically, what Paul just said in the last paragraph. He is telling us how to walk toward one-another and God, and how to live Holy Spirit-filled lives that are empowered. Then, he connects those thoughts with this single sentence: “be subject to one-another…out of reverence for Christ.” This is the key; reverence for Christ our motivation in how we treat people, i.e. the Household of God.
You see, Paul is simply taking a cultural tradition of his day, the marriage practices of the Hebrews, and explaining God’s relationship to the people allegorically. He simply did not mean that men should be “the boss” and women the “slave,” with no equality. We know this because when one “rightly divides the word of God” (2Tim 2:15), we read, “There is neither Jew nor gentile, male nor female in Christ, all one…” (Gal 3:28). Therefore, the real household we are concerned with is the total household of all of God’s children, which brings us right back to the first sentence in Paul’s passage today: “be subject to one-another out of reverence for Christ…”
Reverence – respect and awe, a Godly awareness of the Divine in creation. Remember the wristbands and T-shirts that say “W W W D”, the acronym for What Would Jesus Do? I wear one occasionally when my old nature starts to act up. It reminds me to think about what Christ would do in any given situation that I am in if He were standing there; because in essence, He really is. He is standing there in the presence of the person I am with, and hopefully in and through me. Sometimes I am more likely to “act out” as Tim would, than Jesus. I need reminding. I want to be subject to my brother or sister I am with and give reverence to the Divine in the Sacrament of the present moment.
The word today says that Jesus loves the Church so much that He gave Himself to her, wholly. Because of this, the allegory is that the church should submit to Him wholly as the risen savior and Crowned King of Glory.
Note: (wives in Ephesus were apparently being drawn away by other teachers who were not their husbands. 2Timothy 3:1-7 Woman were also, according to some scholars, interrupting the readings in the synagogues, which was not permitted in that culture, so this reference is merely one of cultural meaning; a correction to the church services that were out of order and false prophets who were drawing away people, among whom were women of other “households”)
Paul paints a picture of the Church as a bride of Christ, and in that sense, we give respect to our Lord, who is over us. This is the allegory, based on a cultural setting, but not supporting that setting. There is no getting around this fact, however. Paul is directing a message to families, to husbands, wives, children, and all extended family members: respect Jesus Christ by being properly subject to one another. Yet, the message of the Full Gospel, rightly studied and balanced, places all on equal ground. The leaders and teachers of that day had to work with the culture in which they lived and often started on the cultural level in their letters, to raise people out of the physical understanding into the Christian metaphysical realities. This, I believe, is what Paul is arriving at. He is pointing to the Gospel of liberation in Christ. It is easy for a person to submit to a liberator who comes to set that person into freedom, and that is exactly what Jesus came to do. He preached liberation, equality, and a radical new covenant. Therefore, in essence, we are to submit to each other in that liberation and to set one another free. In fact, the whole letter is heading in that direction in a grand way, as we shall see in chapter six. This is why the husband is to love their wives as Christ loves the church, and the wives to be subjects of their own husbands, as the church is to Jesus. I cannot imagine Jesus having his wife “killed in an honor killing” like some Muslims do in the Middle East because to woman was “seen” with an infidel, or Jesus giving anything but Grace to the Church.
Be subject to one another out of respect [reverence] for the Christ of liberation for in doing so we set humanity free. This is the only Gospel I find in the writings of St. Paul. Amen