The purpose of this article is to explore Ephesians 5:21-33 to develop a better understanding of the connection Jesus talked about between the Kingdom of God (previewed for us in the Church) and marriage. We will accomplish this by talking about what is a Christian mystery and then look at the passage from Ephesians.
Begin With Mystery
To begin talking about why being subordinate is important in Christian marriage, a little background in Christian mystery would be helpful.
The book of Hebrews begins with
In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe.(1)
Until the Incarnation(2), God did not reveal the plan He had to save humanity in a manner that could be understood. At Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit formed the Church and took up residence in the baptized, the plan was fully revealed.
Vatican II document Dogmatic Constitution On Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) clarifies the point by stating “no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”(3) Unlike some of our Protestant brothers and sisters, we do not believe that any public revelations has been given since the death of Saint John the Evangelist.(4)
While All Has Been Revealed, Not All Is Fully Understood
All truths has been revealed but even after 2,000 years of study, we don’t fully understand them, and that’s okay. However, for those on the fringes of the Church, hearing the phrase “it’s a mystery” translates to “I don’t know” or “you are too dumb to understand”. In reality declaring that we don’t fully understand something about God is a humble admission of the truth.
- We know Jesus was fully God AND fully man, but we struggle to understand how He could do that.
- We know Jesus is fully present in the Eucharist at every Mass but we can’t fully explain how.
- We know there is one God, but how is He is three unique persons?
- We are selfish when we are called to be generous, we are rude when we are called to be kind, we are hateful we we are called to love.
- We know at marriage, two are to become one flesh for life but almost 30% of Catholic marriage end in divorce.(5)
These are all mysteries for which we have our entire lives to struggle with and in doing so come to know God better. It seems to me that God gave us this struggle to help us appreciate the truth we find while attempting to solve Christian mysteries, which brings us to why being subordinate is important.
With these concepts of mystery in mind, let’s turn to a Scripture passage you have probably heard many times but perhaps you have not been aware of the great Truths it contains. This is the “wives should be subordinate to their husbands” passage that riles up some women and makes men uncomfortable when read at Mass; however, for those with ears to hear, there are amazing truths in here of how those of us who are married are to live with the greatest possible happiness.
|21) Become subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.|
|This is admonishment for all Christians.The English word subordinate means to be at lower rank or level. Saint Paul tells us in Romans 12:3 “not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” We are to be subordinate to each other? Yes. How? Well, it’s a mystery.We are equal in God’s eyes. You are just as important to God as is the pope. Since everyone is important to God, none of us are unimportant to God. Job titles, skin color, place of birth, bank balances or even the creed a person follows does not determine their value to their creator.In generations past, and even some of that is around today, husbands considered themselves superior to wives. Today, there is a trend in pop culture that wives should consider themselves superior to their husbands. Both of these are unacceptable.|
|22) Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.|
|Next Paul explains what this subordination should look like in a marriage. Keep in mind — and this is critical in understanding the mystery in this passage — Saint Paul intended this passage as a metaphor describing the Church’s relationship with Jesus.We (the Church) are the bride of Christ and He is our bride groom. Saint John Paul II goes into depth on this topic in his Theology of the Body.(4)As the Church should submit to Jesus so to should wives submit to following their husbands. Many women bristle at this sentence, and I have seen several priest not even want to preach on this verse because they do not want to offend the women.Keep in mind that Christianity is offensive to the standards of the world. Jesus was killed because He was offensive. If this passage bothers you — as it did me for many years — then please reading to understand the mystery the Holy Spirit is given us through Saint Paul.|
|23-24) For the husband is head of his wife, just as Christ is head of the church, He himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.|
|To 21st century Western ears, this passage seems to send male/female relationships back to the 15th century. Unfortunately, those without ears to hear stop listening at this point, which is to their loss because the great payoff comes in the next sentence.Jesus is the head of the Church. While popes, bishops, priests, parish staff are the visible leadership of the Church, they are subordinate to Jesus and will called to give an account of what they did in their various roles. Our history is marred with the errors of when Church leadership rejected Jesus as their bridegroom and attempted to make the Church subject to themselves.In the same way, we see brokenness of our societies as we reject the right order of Christian marriage attempt to do things our own way.|
|25-27) 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.|
|This is the payoff passage for wives and the responsibility passage for husbands.Fellow husbands, we are to love our wives enough to die for them as Jesus died for the Church. When we said ”I do” before God, we agreed to subordinate our wants and desires like Jesus did for our wives and for our marriages. We agreed to die to what we wanted so that we can bring life — and bring it more abundantly — to our wives and for our marriages.We husbands bear the responsibility for getting our wives to Heaven. Our wives do not have that same responsibility for us.At the end of time, Jesus will present His bride the Church to the Father to give an account for the talent entrusted to Him. Because of this, Jesus is responsible to return every soul given to Him back to the Father at the end of time.At the end of our time, every husband will be called to give account for our marriage.
Brothers, God ordered marriage so that we are responsible for our wives and our children, therefore, we are to have authority in the marriage. This IS NOT an authority to be lorded over our wives but a servant authority to treat her as Jesus treats to Church, with love and compassion.
|28-31) So [also] husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”|
|When our oldest daughter was born, I got a clear visual of Genesis 2:24. Seeing Anna laying in the crib was the one flesh that had come from the two of us. It took me several more to turn that knowledge into wisdom.Brothers, I have come to understand that when we marry, we are adding to ourselves not burdening ourselves with someone who is out to get us, ruin our lives, or keep us from what we want to accomplish in life. That is the world trash-talking marriage.Thousands of years of experience show us that societies are only as strong as the families they are built on. The success of a family is in the relationship of the marriage at its center. That is why our enemy is doing all he can to destroy marriages and families. In the United States, we have an awful example of this in our inner-city families where stinking-thinking has fathers walking away from their families and the responsibility of the family in on the mothers alone.If you became frustrated with your right arm because you could throw a ball, would you cut off your arm? No, you would “nourishes and cherishes it” until you got the results your were striving for. If one part of our body is not doing well, the entire body suffers.Your wife is part of your body. She is as much a part of you as is your heart. The two of you are one flesh. Your relationship with her needs to be like your relationship with your heart or lungs.|
|32-33) This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church. In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband.|
|The Spirit takes what sounds like an off-handed comment by Saint Paul and uses it to explain an amazing truth about communications within a marriage, which for the vast majority of couples this is a huge mystery.The wisdom of this passage was not clear to me until Fran read the book Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires, The Respect He Desperately Needs by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. I highly recommend this book and his followup Cracking the Communication Code: The Secret to Speaking Your Mate’s Language.We had been struggling for years with communications but we never understood why. We both thought the other was not trying enough to communicate — some of that stinking think I talked about above — but the reality was that we were stuck in the mystery of not speaking the right language.I deal in respect. I treat people according to the amount of respect I have for them or that they have earned in my eyes. I wanted Fran to respect me but instead she loved me. I didn’t want love, I wanted respect.She speaks and lives love. When she felt love coming to her, she could give respect. Eggerichs calls this The Crazy Cycle. He says “Without love, she reacts without respect and without respect, he reacts without love” and because of this, we struggled in our marriage for most of the first 20 years.
Remember what Paul says men “should love [their] wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband.” Once we started doing this, our marriage has never been better.
What we call the mysteries of life can be made clear in Christ.
How This Helps In Becoming A Light To The Nations
For those in all states of life, take time to study Ephesians 5:21-33 and pray the Holy Spirit would help you understand the amazing mysteries it contains.
This passage demonstrates another reason the Church cannot accept what pop culture is calling “same-sex marriage”. With two husbands, neither can submit. With two wives, neither can have authority. God created us for specific unions.
And brothers, when you walk out of your wife, your responsibility does not end because you are still married to her even though you don’t consider yourself married. She is still your responsibility to get to Heaven.
Two final notes:
- Ladies, you are asked by Jesus to submit to your husbands to help him to grow and to bring right order to the family. Help him to achieve this as you would help any part of your own body. However, you are NEVER EVER to remain silent in the face of abuse by your husband. If he resorts to any form of abuse, seek help from your priest or — if the situation warrants — law enforcement. Please do all you can for the sake of the marriage but not at the expense of your personal safety and well being.
- Brothers, we have a massive responsibility on us, which is why Jesus gave us each other and the Church. You do not need to try to figure out how to be a husband on your own. DO NOT listen to the stinking-think of the world for advice on how to be a husband. Trust the gray hair of men in your parish and your priest (though he does not have a physical wife, he is married to the Church). You are NEVER EVER to lord your authority as husband over your wife and your family. She is not your servant, your punching bag, or your prostitute; she is your wife. Your gift from God to help you become the man He intend you to become.
1) Hebrews 1:1
2) Incarnation is Church-speak for the event we celebrate during Advent and Christmas when God became a human in the person of Jesus. This marks the beginning of the public revelation of Jesus.
3) Dei Verbum §4 ¶2
4) Public revelations ended with the death of Saint John the Evangelist. Almost since that time there have been private revelations where God speaks to individuals or small groups. Modern examples include Saint Faustina and Divine Mercy, as well as the Marian apparitions at Fatima and Lourdes. Faith in public revelations is required for all Christians. Faith in private revelations are not required for salvation. Those private revelations approved by the Church such as Fatima and Divine Mercy are worthy of your consideration to help you in your walk with Jesus.
6) Author Christopher West has written extensively on Saint John Paul II Theology of the Body. For a good introduction to this teaching, I recommend West’s book Theology of the Body for Beginners: A Basic Introduction to Pope John Paul II’s Sexual Revolution, Revised Edition.