Sunday, August 26, 2012

Real men love their wives as much as Christ loves His Church: A Reflection on Ephesians 5:21-33

Ephesians 5:21-33 is one of my favourite passages of scripture. For me it models and clears the way - like a lighthouse guiding in the ships to port - about how a husband is to love his wife. When this passage of scripture is read out at Mass at this time on the liturgical calendar, however, I am always amused by the looks on some of the faces of some of the women sitting in Mass. Let me tap the part of the passage that irks them:

"Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands." - Ephesians 5:22-24

Basically the "modern woman" will interpret that portion of the passage this way:

"The husband is the boss; you are subservient to him; you are second to him; blah-de-blah-de-blah-de-blah!"

I'm not kidding! Quite a few Christian women I know (Catholic and non-Catholic alike) have deemed St. Paul a misogynist based on this particular letter alone, but there are some very important details that are glossed over in the kind of marriage St. Paul is describing, and let's not forget verse 21:

"Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." - Ephesians 5:21

It doesn't get any clearer than that, but let's break down verse 22. "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord." is not a statement or instruction of coercion or submission; "... be subject... as to the Lord" is the same as saying, "put your trust in your husband" or "have faith in your husband". St. Paul goes on to note in verses 23 and 24 that the role of the husband is modelled on the headship of Jesus Christ over the Church. As Christ made a new covenant promise with His people, the Church, so too the husband and wife make a sacred covenant promise to each other in marriage, a promise that is built on trust and faith, (i.e. fidelity) and the kicker is what we read in the following verses about the husband's duties to his wife:

"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. " - Ephesians 5:25-33

How much does Christ love the Church? How much does the Lord love us? How did the Lord demonstrate this love for us? Get back to Sunday school if you don't know the answer to this question, but I'll give you the cliff notes: Christ died for us for the sake of our salvation (John 3:16)! This gift, called "grace", is the gift that was and is freely given that we did nothing to be granted. Husbands are thus expected to sacrifice themselves for their wives and love her as the Lord loves us: unconditionally and selflessly, and as we read in verses 26 and 27, the husband must work to make his wife "holy and without blemish".

What a calling! What a responsibility! Which of us that are married men can honestly say that we work this way, even in part, to uplift and uphold our wives in such a way that they may appear sanctified before the Lord? Listening to this Second Reading this morning at Mass challenged me and made me contemplate the ways through which I love my wife. I can be a slob, a buffoon, a dolt, a fool, a dope, a twit, and a jerk, and I especially need to learn to love my wife in ways that emulate the love Christ has for the Church. The more I realise this as a Christian-Catholic allows me to concede, not by any sense of defeat, but so as not to allow pride to enter my heart, that in order to love my wife the way Christ loves the Church I need more of Christ in my heart and centred in my marriage.

In short, St. Paul is writing about a marriage between husband and wife that is built faith and trust in each other, and a selfless love to work in mutuality; to love, to honour, and to serve without counting the cost.

In the two, husband and wife, in marriage becoming "one flesh", they are no longer two persons but unified equals working together in the greatest of pairings conceived by the Lord God. It is for this reason St. Paul draws the parallel between the marriage of a husband to his wife to the relationship Christ has with the Church; the Church is the bride and Christ the bridegroom. It is the love and sacrifice of Christ that allows the Church to grow and nourish its children spiritually, and it is the faith we, the Church, place in Christ that enables Him to work through us transforming us into new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). The old becomes gone.

Real men love their wives as much as Christ loves His Church. Are you man enough to love your wife this way?


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