I wish to draw our attention to today’s second reading, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I’m sure there was a little bit of elbowing and perhaps smirking going on between husbands and wives when we heard St. Paul say “wives be subordinate to your husbands.” If we were a church of biblical literalists we would certainly be somewhat puzzled as to how to take this to heart in this modern society. But we are not literalists so we must somehow interpret this word of God so that it is helpful for us in living the life of Faith. And so, I’d like us to look at this reading in three ways: first, in terms of the person of Jesus Christ, second in terms of how the early Christians understood themselves in relation to Christ and how they understood themselves in relation to the general culture of the world of that time, and finally apply it to our modern situation.
First, recall that as Christians we are called to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus came into the world not only to tell us about God the Father, who he knew completely and intimately as the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, but also to place the world once again in right relation with God’s original intention for creation. Jesus came to heal the wound of sin and division between God and man that occurred as a result of Adam’s sin. As a result of that sin, brokenness and division among humanity entered the world. We no longer lived in the right relationship with each other as brothers or sisters that God intended for us when he originally established creation. But through his atoning death on the Cross, Jesus healed that division, that brokenness, and once again established the kingdom, the new creation. Christians see themselves as new creations, born again out of the waters of Baptism, and infused with the very being of God Himself in the gift of the Holy Spirit. Even prior to his death in his words and preaching, Jesus told us that those who follow him in the kingdom of God are called to live in the new creation by turning away from sin and by seeking through our words and actions to further the kingdom in this world.
The Christians of Ephesus were encouraged by St. Paul to remember that they were living in the kingdom of God and that they were a new creation. They were to be a Spirit-filled people who lived every moment of their lives within the newness of the kingdom. They were not called to live apart from the world but to live in the world by taking up anything that was of the good and completing it in Christ. Paul reminds them in this letter that all of the ways in which they interact with each other are new and different in the light of Christ. So St. Paul takes the common understanding of that time that the husband is the head of the household and makes it something new and different in Christ. Yes, he says, the wife is subordinate to the husband but she is subordinate in the way that the Church is subordinate to Christ – of Him and part of Him. But lest one think that this means the husband can do what he will to this subordinate wife, St. Paul says, “But you husbands, you must love your wives in the same way that Christ loves his Church, as his own Body.” What St. Paul does here is he takes the custom and culture of the day which was something that was understood then to be for the good order of society and Christianizes it. Christians no longer live as just husband and wife. They live as part of the Church and by the way they live their lives as husband and wife, they show forth the spousal relationship of Christ the groom to His bride, the Church.
So what does all of this have to offer us today for living the life of faith? It is reminder to us that each of us needs to continue to foster that personal relationship with Jesus Christ through our daily prayer, our meditation on Scripture, and our life in the Sacraments of the Church. Each of us must see Jesus as our brother and Savior, as our beginning and our end, as our beloved Lord “in whom we live, and move, and have our being.” That is at the very core of what it means to be a Catholic. “Jesus I love you and adore you.”
Second, just like the early Christians in Ephesus we are asked to see everything new in the light of our faith and life in Jesus Christ and his Church. We are to be a people who do not live our lives separate from our society and culture but to be a people who take what is good in the world and make it better in Christ. So, to use the example of the relationship of a husband and wife within our present culture, while we now understand the wife to be an equal partner with the husband in the common life of marriage and not a subordinate one, and we see this as a good thing, we continue to see that marital relationship as one which evidences and makes present Christ’s spousal love for the Church. As Christ loves the Church, His Body, so the husband and wife love each other, seeing in each the true unity they share in the covenant of marriage.
But this life of the Christian in the new creation extends beyond this example. It extends to all facets of our lives – all that is of the good is of Christ. The good works of our hands are of Christ. The kind words of our mouths are of Christ. The relationships of family and friendship are of Christ. The works of charity and sacrifice we undertake every day are of Christ. It is in all of this that we say, “Jesus, I love you and adore you,” but not just in words, but in action. And why do we say this? Because in the words of St. Peter, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”