See Imperfection as the Promise of Change
Thirtieth Week of Year II Tuesday October 25, 2016
The Responsorial Psalm calls reverence a blessing: “Happy are those who fear the Lord” (Psalm 128).
Ephesians 5:21-33 has become in our day the “unquotable passage” in Scripture because of the words: “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.” A prudent preacher would not touch this text with a barge pole!
We should note, however, that the text begins by calling both husbands and wives to: “be subject to one another.” And this is “in reverence for Christ.” The passage ends using the same word “reverence” for what wives should give to husbands. So everything is based on seeing Christ in one another.
It gives perspective to note Paul’s use of the word “subjected” when he describes the final establishment of God’s reign throughout the world:
When all things are subjected to him [Christ], then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.1
Obviously, if God the Son is “subject” to the Father, then being “subject” does not imply inequality! The focus here is on order, not prestige.2 Paul urges this “submission” to the Gospel, to government and to the leaders of the local community.3 Peter tells Christians to submit to the authority “of every human institution,” slaves to their masters, wives to their husbands, and younger Christians to the elders.4
What the apostles are urging here is order, and respect for existing roles in society, even if the role itself ought not exist (e.g. slave masters). As stewards of the kingship of Christ, who know “there is no authority except from God,” and that “those authorities that exist have been instituted by God,” 5 we respect the existing roles in society even while in some cases we work to abolish or modify them. “Happy are those who fear (reverence) the Lord” and see him in every person!
Obviously, in our time the cultural roles of husbands and wives have changed. Paul would say today that all should respect the order we recognize as right today.
In Luke 13: 18-21 Jesus warns us not to expect the Church (or anything else!) to be perfect in our time — or to look the same in a few years as it does today. The kingdom grows at the pace of a seed becoming a tree, or like “yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” But it grows. Change is taking place, and as stewards of his kingship we have to help it happen. A tree doesn’t look like a seed. Bread doesn’t look like flour. If the Church today looked like the Church of the first centuries, it would mean we are stagnant.
In our speed-oriented society, we get stressed-out waiting for jobs to be accomplished, phone calls to be returned, or even for our computers to process data! Jesus, however, teaches us to wait unstressed “in joyful hope” while working patiently — in peace — for the only thing of ultimate importance: the final victory of Christ.
11Corinthians 15: 22-28. Note v. 23 “each in his own order.” Jesus was also “subject” to Mary and Joseph: Luke 2: 51.
2See Sunday 29 above.
32Corinthians 9:13; Romans 13: 1-5; 1Corinthians 16:16.
41Peter 2:13,18; 3:1, 5:5.
Initiative: Be Christ’s steward. Respect order and work for change.