The injunction for wives to be submissive to their husbands, given in our first reading, certainly offends our modern ears. That’s just not the kind of thing we say in this society, at least not in these days. Yet this was the norm in the society in which Saint Paul ministered. So that command would hardly have raised an eyebrow. What would have been shocking in Saint Paul’s time was the reciprocal injunction to husbands to love their wives as they loved their own bodies. Indeed, Saint Paul’s point was not to rile either husbands or wives, but more to promote the living of harmonious family relationships.
So how would it look now? Today, I think Saint Paul would insist that husbands and wives would live as equal partners, showing mutual respect, and living the love of Christ in their relationship. Saint 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. He says this in the second-to-last line of the reading: “This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church.” The marriage of man and woman is intended to be an icon, a reflection, a window where all can see the marriage of God to the Church and to the world. It’s a challenge and a decision that married couples must make every day, as well as those of us wed to the Church through Holy Orders.
May we all love one another as Christ loves his bride, the Church.