As if we didn’t have enough to squirm about in the pulpit these days, we come to this episode in our cycle of liturgical readings where we hear St. Paul go on and on about “being subordinate to one another,” and “wives should be subordinate to their husbands,” and again, “be subordinate to their husbands in everything.” Sure, he throws in there that husbands should love your wives, but for the most part, the damage is done, isn’t it?
This particular reading is the source of much consternation among men and women – wives and husbands – who have listened to it for years. The Lectionary even gives us an “out,” cutting out all that “subordination” language and just focusing on the “husbands, love your wives” stuff. The fact that you hear it today is my choice; so, ladies, focus your ire at me, not your significant others. It’s not their fault.
But why? Why did Paul write this? We could sit here from 2,000 years away and talk about the patriarchal society of the time, or Paul’s inherent misogyny. However, what if we set aside our tendency to be offended and really see what this is all about; because, I believe, there is something very important here, and it could even speak to the terrible news that our Church is immersed in.
The key to understanding this particular passage of Scripture is the last line of the reading: “This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.” Paul was only ever about Jesus. Regardless of our possible image of Paul as a wizened old curmudgeon, he spoke often and beautifully about love – and in particular, the love of Christ. Therefore, that is what we should always be looking for when we read Paul – not “how is he going to offend me this time?”
The mystery of Christ and His Church is what I want to focus us on – that mystery is what will guide us through the midst of this current storm. This mystery is not one of an institution; it is not one of simply traditions; and it is not one of power and subjection. We might be tempted to see it that way when we look at the institutional Church as a whole; but this is not the will of God. And the will of God is what we should all be about, isn’t it?
When St. Paul calls wives to be subordinate to husbands, and when he calls husbands to love their wives, he is speaking of the essential relationship that we all must have with one another and with God. This is what any true religion is about: the submission of our ego, our will, to that of God who created us. The only way I can remain in a Church led by flawed men is that I recognize that it is not “their” Church; nor is it “mine.”
It is Christ’s Church.
He is the reason anyone is here. He is the One who loves with that love that Paul is writing about. He is the one who submitted to the Father’s will (as a wife to a husband), and loved us so much that He died for us (as a husband for a wife). This is the mystery at the heart of who you and I are as disciples. It isn’t about a woman being somehow subordinate to a man or a man lording his manliness over anyone else. That is disordered, that is wrong, it is sinful. Frankly, it is that same disordered view that leads to the sorts of crimes and sins at the center of this current scandal.
However, not so with Jesus; and not so with those who wish to follow Him. He is the one who feeds us with His very self – His Flesh and His Blood. It is complete and total divine love that makes this possible; and we can get it nowhere else. When we despair and feel drawn to leave the Church because of the terrible sins of Her leaders and ministers, we are reminded that we are here not for them but for Jesus. That is the great mystery into which we have been joined and in which we find life.
Even through this terrible storm of scandal, we can find the joy of our true faith, rooted in that mystery of Christ and His Church – of Christ and you and me. He is the one to whom we can turn when everyone else has disappointed us. He is the one to whom we all can say, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”