In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
When I was working at Camp back in college, I noticed the reading from Ephesians we have today was missing from the daily office lectionary. Hmmm, I thought to myself, there seems to be an oversight here, they skipped over this passage. So, I flip open my Bible and figure out what is being left out. Oh my, they have left this part out due to their agenda. “Wives be subject to your husbands” is against the agenda of equality, so this has to be left out. Well I don’t like leaving parts of the Bible out, so I conferred with my brother sacristan and we agreed to insert this section back into Evening Prayer. Man did I catch it for that.
As soon as that line was read, I could feel the eyes of the more progressive girls on staff turn to me. Upon this “disturbance in the force” I looked around and could see their laser eyes boring holes of hatred into my person and that of my buddy. After Evening Prayer concluded and we went to dinner, as the Evening Prayer cards were passed to me by these various girls to be put up until tomorrow, I could feel the air around me drop a few degrees due to their cold fury at having heard these words from St. Paul.
Make no bones about it Beloved, this reading we have heard today is for our culture today a hard saying, who can listen to it? In fact, the Church has many hard sayings that cause people to draw back due to the seeming lack of flexibility by the Church on certain issues. The struggle is real. How can the Church teach such backward doctrines? Isn’t God love? Shouldn’t we make that the message first? Shouldn’t we hold back these hard, non-politically correct teachings in order to let people know that they are deeply loved by God?
Well, let’s take a moment and look at our track record and see if this is a good idea. Joshua 24, the Promised Land has now been conquered, and Joshua’s time is coming very close to an end. So he distributes the land allotted to each tribe and they are about to go on their merry way to inhabit the land. But before they left, Joshua said, “While I’ve got you here, let me give you some advice before you go. Serve the Lord and put away false gods. But if you are unwilling to do so, be honest with yourselves and walk away now.”
The People, “Oh yeah. We will serve the Lord. Look at all the good things he has done for us.”
Joshua then tells them, “There are going to be a lot of rules that are tough for you. If you turn away from his hard rules and embrace the free love of the foreign gods, God is going to get mad—“he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good. There are rules and if you want to live under his house, he will hold you to them.”
The people say, “Of Course we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua: “Are you sure?”
The People, “Yes.”
Joshua: “Ok. You are witnesses against yourself that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him”
The People, “That’s right we are.”
And so Joshua made a covenant with them to show the depth of their promise—failure to keep the promise results in their death. But they are willingly subjecting themselves to these rules. And since they are willingly subjecting themselves to the rules, God expects them to keep them—even the hard ones. But they don’t and it gets them into trouble time and time again.
But out of love for us, as Paul says in Romans, “While we were yet still sinners, Christ died for us.” Though not even God’s chosen people could keep their promises, God sent his Son to die for their transgressions that they may be free again to make the decision to return to him once again.
And during these last few weeks we have been rehashing his speech to them about the Bread of Life and needing to eat of his flesh and drink of his blood and in this, they will receive eternal life. But for these people, this was a hard saying—one which caused many of his disciples to turn back and no longer follow him. And as he watched them walk away, Jesus turned to the 12, and said, “Do you also wish to go away?”
Peter answers on behalf of the 12 “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” This awesome statement goes to show us two things: 1) even the hard teachings of the Church are included in what Jesus wants us to know, and 2) even these hard teachings are life giving—the words of eternal life.
For instance: this Ephesians reading today. It starts out by acknowledging that all people hold equal standing as each person is made in God’s image. So if each person is equal, then in order to put another person higher than yourself, you must willingly put them higher and you lower. Each person is to show dignity to the next by raising their neighbor’s good above that of their own, because this is the example that Christ gave us.
This leads us into the “controversial” portion of wives being subject to their husbands. First, Paul has just asserted that all people are equal to each other, which includes women. But Paul calls women to “be subject” to their husbands. This means for the wife to willingly place herself under the authority of her husband—it is not a matter one her being lesser—she is not, she is equal, yet Paul calls her to willingly place herself in the lower role—again following the example of our Lord.
The wife is to take for her model the Church. Her model is not be passive, merely waiting there, longing for her orders. No, she is to fulfil her role in the family very much actively. There is no dead weight. She is not to refrain from exercising her influence or even from respectfully admonishing her husband when need be. She needs to be the one that is the Christ example to all in the family, by raising all up around her. Godly subjugation is not cowering in fear, but actively demonstrating Christ’s call to take the lowest seat that all may be glorified, and in taking that lowest seat, have the opportunity to be called up to greater glory.
Husbands also have a very hard calling here, but somehow this is less controversial. Husbands have the call of being willing to be lifted to the role of Christ to the family. How scary is that?! Paul says, “Husbands love you wives,” but the word there is not love as we see in movies, eros love. Rather husbands are to demonstrate agape love to their wives. Agape love is the self-sacrificing love that Christ showed the Church (us) when he voluntarily offered his life on the cross for the life of the world.
This means that Paul is calling husbands to lay down their lives for their wives. This means prioritizing the needs of the wife over the needs of the husband. The goal here is to make his wife holy—set apart—as Christ makes his bride the Church holy. Husbands are to set apart their wives, cull them away from the mundane and profane and lift them up to God as the A #1 priority.
This passage in Paul’s letter gets such a bad rap, but it is indeed the words of eternal life. It is very much a hard saying because how hard it is to place the needs of others above those of our own. But this hard saying shows us that by loving our spouse, each is lifting the other up to God and being set apart that all may have access to the Father and be saved.
So I still stand by my decision a decade and a half ago to reinsert what was left out because it was at the surface level a divisive statement that we don’t want to uphold as of the Christian faith. We who willingly call ourselves Christians, should not, indeed cannot, dismiss these hard sayings. These ARE the words of eternal life. And rather than simply adding them back into Evening Prayer once every other year, this should be read at every wedding and practiced every day of our lives, because everyone needs to be shown such love every single day.
In a world where websites such as Ashley Madison exist and sports stars are constantly being brought up on sexual assault charges, I think we definitely need more Godly Subjugation. This is how we let people know of God’s love for them.
In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.