Today’s reading from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians is that reading. The reading that states that wives should be subservient to their husbands. I have been to parishes that drop the reading, change the reading, and provide only a part of the reading. In short they did everything but understand the reading. A simple glance through any history book dealing with Mediterranean Society within 100 years of the birth of Christ will identify the fact that women did not have many rights. Exceptions existed, but for the most part women had a rough go of it. It is in light of this context that one must read and understand the radical nature of Paul’s admonition. He states that women must be subservient to their husbands which reflected the standard notion of the time. But the next set of standards turns the popular notion of hierarchy and jurisdiction on its head when he admonishes husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. What sacrifices, gifts, and outpourings did Christ withhold from his Church? If one were to follow the text exactly it should be the men who have something to complain about because they are held up to the standard of imitating Christ whereas women simply have to be obedient to their husbands!
But such an interpretation of today’s reading fails to understand the transformative nature of the Christian life. Certainly Paul could not proclaim women’s independence in the manner of a 19th century suffragette. Instead, he used the Christian message to redeem an extant social reality and identify the new and revolutionary nature of Christianity. In this, Paul was far more radical than most attribute to his theology and to his writings.