This blog follows the daily bible readings of the Catholic Church
Reading 1, Ephesians 5:21-33
21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives should be subject to their husbands as to the Lord, 23 since, as Christ is head of the Church and saves the whole body, so is a husband the head of his wife; 24 and as the Church is subject to Christ, so should wives be to their husbands, in everything. 25 Husbands should love their wives, just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her 26 to make her holy by washing her in cleansing water with a form of words, 27 so that when he took the Church to himself she would be glorious, with no speck or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and faultless. 28 In the same way, husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies; for a man to love his wife is for him to love himself. 29 A man never hates his own body, but he feeds it and looks after it; and that is the way Christ treats the Church, 30 because we are parts of his Body.
31 This is why a man leaves his father and mother and becomes attached to his wife, and the two become one flesh. 32 This mystery has great significance, but I am applying it to Christ and the Church.
33 To sum up: you also, each one of you, must love his wife as he loves himself; and let every wife respect her husband.
The writer of this passage accepts the current social ethos of the inequality of man and woman, husband and wife. In his culture, males had power over females. The writer does not challenge this basic assumption but rather adds to it the peculiarly Christian teaching that the stronger should cherish the weaker just as Christ cherishes the church. Behaviour of husbands to wives must be nothing less than Christ’s behaviour towards believers. We may wish that the writer had been bolder in following the teaching of Paul that in Christ there is neither male nor female, but even Paul himself did not follow his own insight thoroughly.
While we can understand how this teaching came about, we must never allow it to block the progress of women towards full equality in society and in the church. There are still old men, especially in the Anglican and Catholic branches of Christianity, who cannot accept women as equals, and provide all sorts of spurious reasons, including bible passages, to justify their prejudice and domination.
But even when equality has been achieved, we may still want to make the love of Christ the standard for the behaviour of spouses towards each other.
Gospel, Luke 13: 18-21
18 He went on to say, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it with?19 It is like a mustard seed which a man took and threw into his garden: it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air sheltered in its branches.’
We might say that the seed of equality, sown by Jesus, is not yet fully grown, but is still growing; or that the yeast of equality, mixed in by Jesus, has not yet leavened the whole lump.
Jesus cautions his disciples against both the pessimism that sees no sign of God’s rule and the over-optimism which thinks it has fully arrived.