Well, it would be hard to pick a scarier reading to preach about on Halloween than one that starts out with the emotionally-charged sentence, “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.” It almost makes me want to skip it and preach on the Gospel reading, or even on the Alleluia verse – anything but that reading. But I firmly believe that if we’re going to have that reading, we need to understand it. Certainly it offends our modern sensibilities to hear something about women being subordinate to men. It’s just not done in this society.
Yet it was done in the society in which St. Paul ministered. So his injunction to wives would hardly have raised an eyebrow. What would have been shocking in St. Paul’s time was the reciprocal injunction to husbands to love their wives as they loved their own bodies. Indeed, St. Paul’s point was not to rile either husbands or wives, but more to promote the living of harmonious family relationships. In that culture, the most harmonious families were those in which the wife was submissive to the husband, and the husband loved his wife. Not only that, they were expecting a very near return of Christ, so he didn’t always think people should be married at all. That’s how it looked then.
So how would it look now? Today, I think St. Paul would insist that husbands and wives would live as equal partners, showing mutual respect, and living the love of Christ in their relationship. St. Paul would certainly say that men and women should work together to foster families in which God’s love could be shown and made manifest in the world through them. The real point of this reading, we must remember, is that the love of husband and wife echoes the love between Christ and the Church.
We have to put aside the emotionally charged words that don’t make sense in today’s society, and instead turn to the heart of the message. We must respect one another and promote families in which God’s love can become real in a world which desperately needs to receive it. May we all love one another as Christ loves his bride, the Church.