While sitting in mass on Sunday, there were some rather uncomfortable people in the seats around me as the lector got up to read the Epistle.

“Wives should be subordinate to their husbands,” he proclaimed, reading directly from the 5th chapter of Ephesians.  I began to hear the chuckles around me.  The women uncomfortably cleared their throats; some even rolled their eyes.

“Poor ignorant Paul,” they thought.  “Thank goodness we live in a much more enlightened time now.” If you looked across the church at that moment, I’m sure you could’ve found more than a handful of husbands nudging their wives.  Finally, someone who understands what a wife is supposed to be!

It’s funny; because every time that passage is read at mass, the same thing happens.  The same people become uncomfortable, flustered, and even angry.  As soon as that line is read, it’s as if we tune the rest of the reading out.  But why?

Today, the word “submission” has a very negative connotation.  It is linked with a master/slave type of relationship.  Clearly that is not a very Christian way to look at any relationships, and certainly not marriage.  If you were brave enough to listen to the next part of the reading, this is what you’d hear:

…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.

Ah.  So if wives are to submit to their husbands, this is what they are supposed to be submitting to:

  • Being loved, “as Christ loved the Church,”
  • A love that is self-giving, that “hands himself over for her…that she might be holy and without blemish”,
  • Someone who loves her “as his own body”.

So, do we really live in a “more enlightened time” now?  Because I sort of think that, regarding what a marriage is supposed to look like, Paul hit the nail on the head here.