The Revolutionary Teaching on Marriage
Today’s second reading is one of those controversial ones that get people to reject our faith because they feel the teachings do not match the culture. They also believe the teachings produce a belief in the role of women that is subservient as they act as humble servants to their husbands. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Further, in today’s world, despite Margaret Atwood’s rejection of the interpretation many connect these type of readings to the Handmaid’s Tale saying this is the kind of reading that could lead us to that type of culture.
Doing research for today’s homily, I found that in fact at the hearings for Amy Coney Barrett women, in Boston and other cities dressed up as the characters on the series. Which for the record I have never watched nor have I read the book by the aforementioned Margaret Atwood.
All of this in light of today’s reading reflects a complete misunderstanding to what it is really about. Should we take the reading to heart, yes, and in what way? Let’s look.
The most important part of the reading is the first part, the first line that was read. In fact there is one word that is key and without it we cannot understand this reading at all. The word is Colossians.
You see this is St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. So the first part of the reading that is most important to understand is this was not written to you. It was written to the people of Ephesus.
Paul is writing to a group of the Christians there and teaching them how to live as Christians. Now to understand this reading ask yourself: "At what point did you ever consider the Roman Empire to have the most perfect model of marriage?"
Marriage was an arrangement between the husband and wife. According to PBS there was nothing in the marriage covenant that recognized adultery on the part of the male except that if the wife divorced bbecause of it she received her dowry back. If the husband divorced the wife because of her adultery she received half her dowry back. Many marriages were pre-arranged with the man in his twenties and the woman in her teens. Again that is according to PBS.
Period, there it is.
Paul is elevating marriage to a covenant between God and his Church. He is changing the whole concept of marriage to be a mutual respect of the spouses and using it as a model for Christ and His Church. Man and woman are called to be as committed to each other as Christ is to His Church. They are uniting in faith and a mutual commitment to each other and to Christ and by doing so this changes the definition of marriage and elevates the couple to be equals which is not seen the same way in the Roman empire. Further, Paul is speaking to married Christian couples the Romans recognized only marriage between citizens of the empire. So what some see as a denigration of woman according to the bible is a radical redefinition of man and woman in the name of Christ. It is not a putting down of women it is a raising both into the dignity of lovers of Christ. It is a complete definition of what it means to be a married man or woman through their relationship to Christ.
It is also a redefinition of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Do you suppose the idea of the man and woman treating each other as a model of how Christ treats His Church can be said of Apollo as well or Saturn or Mars or any other of the pagan gods of the time. This was written less than thirty years after some of the Jews complained that Pilate mixed the blood of Jews with Gentiles in his sacrifices. That certainly does not seem like he is worshipping a loving God to me.
So Paul is writing about a radical redefinition of the identity of men and women in Christianity. It is not reactionary, it is revolutionary.
It also speaks to us about our position. The more we ground ourselves in our union with Christ and remember this goes far beyond just following rules, the more our faith will become revolutionary in its call to fellow men and women.
Where did we get the idea that we can define people by their positions of left or right. Granted it comes from the French Revolution but think it through. Watch the media and they will describe people as either liberal or conservative, left or right. When did we get the idea that our politics are so binary? The strange thing is the same people who will tell you that people are not binary will define our politics in a binary away. Either you are republican or democrat, either you are conservative or liberal, however, Christianity is a faith of living in powerful ways that challenge all structures including in the Church.
The definition of marriage in today’s second reading is a revolutionary call to live marriage in a new way. We should take it as a revolutionary call to our faith in new ways led by Christ who calls us to know God’s love and love God back as husband and wife are called to love on another in a Catholic marriage whether we are married or not.