Monday, August 27, 2012

Be Subordinate? What? - Homily Notes from 21st Sunday in OT

            “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” Joshua was faced with a decision: serve the Lord. Or not. And he was the leader of his home and he spoke for the nation. How he, as a man, decided would be the way that his home and his country would go. This was his responsibility as a man. Go big or go home. And so he chose: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” He was called to lead them to heaven.

Post-Modernism and the Sexual Revolution: Redefining the Sexes

            In the 1960s, the world saw the culmination of what is called “post-modernism.” Post-modernism, very briefly described, is a view of the world where Things do not have Truth in themselves; we give things their “Meaning.” This is because post-modernism is founded on the belief that there is no God. So, there are no things that are Truly Beautiful; rather, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” And so, we see in post-modern art the exultation of The Broken and The Shattered, the passing off of the ugly as being beautiful.
Now, I say that the 1960s saw the culmination of post-modernism because in the 1960s, we saw the Sexual Revolution. The Sexual Revolution wasn’t just simply “Make Love, Not War” (that was a kind of by-product). Rather, the Sexual Revolution was firstly about the sexes: what it means to be man and what it means to be woman. Post-modernism says that there is no Truth specific to “man” nor specific to “woman.” Rather, we define what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. (This is, of course, because post-modernism has done away with God, the One who “created them male and female” as we read in the first book of Sacred Scripture).
It was now up to us to define what being a man and being a woman was, without any recourse to God. At the same time, there arose a movement for women’s equality. At first, this movement was a good thing. Men and women ARE equal. They both have equal dignity. Equality, notice, is a measurement of value. Men and women are of the same value. And this is, of course, because both man and woman are made in the image of God. So, in the 1960s, this was rightly extolled.
But because this movement moved from its foundations in God (it was post-modern), the movement for women’s equality morphed into a movement for “sameness.” The battle cry was: “Anything you can do, I can do better.” Or, “Women are no different than men.” And so you would see the Battle of the Sexes—even on the tennis court (see Bobby Riggs vs. Billy Jean King in 1973). The ultimate irony in this was that while “Make Love, Not War” was being preached regarding the Vietnam War, it should have been a message preached between the sexes.
The problem with this new feminist movement was that it no longer simply sought equality (which dealt with value), but identity. Women no longer found their identity in God and so they looked to what they envied: the man. Women thus aspired to become more like men in all things (which was the premise for “Sex and the City”). And men? Well, they too were searching for their identity. The post-modern world, however, could not provide them a good answer. So the result was that men either looked to women (and thus became feminine) or, worse, men devolved into the selfish, dependent beings that had once been: namely, boys. In these more recent years, so many men have devolved into something worse: the couch potato.
What we see in the post-modernist Sexual Revolution of the 1960s and current years is really a re-presenting of the Fall in the Garden of Eden. The man, Adam, is distracted away from his bride and does not fulfill his identity; and his bride, knowing she is not cherished for who she is, reaches out for the new identity in the apple, the promise of not just being a man, but of being God.

The Scandal and Mystery of Ephesians 5: Incarnation, Cross, and Marriage

It is in this backdrop that we, as a people who have been infected with post-modern thought, approach today’s second reading. “Husbands love your wives… Wives, be subordinate to your husbands…” (Please, do not crucify me quite yet….)
Through the lens of post-modernism, these lines are offensive. It seems as though Paul is saying that women are of less value (equality) than men. This would be offensive. But Paul is not saying that. Paul is talking about identity and what it means to be a man and a woman and where this identity is found. (And let us be clear: there have been many men who read this passage in the same post-modern light and use it as rationale to treat their wives like dirt). Let us remove these post-modern lenses and see what Paul is really saying.
If we want to know the key to the passage, we must look to the end. At the end, we realize that Paul has been talking in analogy the whole time. The passage, therefore, isn’t firstly about husbands and wives—it’s about The Husband and The Wife: namely, Jesus and the Church. All this time, Paul has been trying to describe Jesus as the Groom and the Church as the Bride and, in order to do this, he must use human imagery. And so, we read the passage in reverse: read it through the lens of Jesus’ life:

1) “a man shall leave his father… and be joined to his wife”
This is salvation history in a nutshell; the reason for the incarnation. Jesus departs the heavenly realm and becomes incarnate here on earth, the Word literally joining himself to our flesh [the bride], and then, as he dies on the cross and offers his body in the Eucharist to His Bride (as the eternal covenant-- wedding vow), his bride [the Church] in joined to Him as She receives Him in divine ecstasy. The two literally become one flesh. You are the Bride. God is the Bridegroom. (see Isaiah 62).

2) “no one hates his own flesh, but rather nourishes and cherishes it even as Christ does the Church”
Do you see how the Incarnation is so crucial here? The great explosion of wonderful goodness is that Jesus nourishes our flesh with his own. He does not hate his flesh—that is, he does not hate humanity. But loves it so much that He lays down his own in self-offering for the redemption of our flesh.

And so Paul writes:

            3) he handed himself over for her “to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath…”
That’s the Crucifixion. But notice too, he cleanses the bride by “water and the word.” [“Go out… and baptize in the name [word] of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit….”] And so we, who are immersed in the waters of baptism are immersed into His death so that, coming out of the waters we who have been made holy might partake in His life. (see Romans 6:3-5)

4) “That he might present to himself [???] the church in splendor… that she might be holy and without blemish”
There is too much to say here. But think the last chapters of the Book of Revelation or all the passages where Jesus talks about weddings and grooms and brides. There is ecstasy here and the Divine Marriage. Read Song of Songs….

Now, Paul has been describing the vocation of Jesus, the Groom. The Groom’s primary purpose in this marriage is to lead his wife to heaven. Jesus embraces the Cross. Why? To bring us, the Church, his Bride, to heaven. That’s the purpose—so that we might participate in the divine ecstasy that comes in the Divine Marriage. And so, Paul exhorts husbands: “love your wives as Christ loves the Church….”

The Vocation of the Husband: To Make Love, Not War

Some of you have probably seen the movie Fireproof. In brief, there’s a man named Caleb and he’s married to Katherine. Caleb and Katherine’s marriage is on the rocks. Caleb’s trying to save it. And so Caleb puts in a good twenty days: he changes the oil to the car, does the laundry, cleans the house, makes Katherine dinner, brings her flowers. But Katherine hasn’t been responding; in fact, Caleb still feels like a stranger in his own home. And Caleb is very, very frustrated. So Caleb goes and talks with his dad. They’re outside and Caleb starts yelling at his dad: “How am I supposed to show love to somebody over and over and over, who constantly rejects me?”
Caleb’s dad starts leaning against a large wooden beam. The camera then begins to pan out and the audience sees that the beam is actually a part of a large wooden cross. Caleb sees the Cross too and is indignant: “Dad, that’s not what I’m doing…. That’s not what this is about!”
His dad interjects:
“Son, you just asked me, how can someone show love over and over again when they are constantly rejected? Caleb, the answer is, you can’t love her because you can’t give her what you don’t have. I couldn’t truly love your mother until I understood what love truly was. It’s not because I get some reward out of it. I made the decision to love your mother whether she deserves it or not. Son, God loves you even though you do not deserve it. Even though you’ve rejected him, spat in his face. God sent Jesus to die on the cross and to take the punishment for your sin because he loves you. The Cross was offensive to me until I came to it. But when I did, Jesus Christ changed my life. That’s when I truly began  to love your mom. Son, I can’t settle this for you. This is between you and the Lord”—
notice, “between you and the Lord.” If you’re having marriage troubles right now. The issue isn’t simply between you and your spouse. It is between you and the Lord.
Caleb’s dad continues:
“Son, I love you too much not to tell you the truth. Can’t you see that you need Him? Can’t you see that you need his forgiveness? Will you trust him with your wife (life?)”

You see, I hear in this not just the marriage between Caleb and Katherine. I hear the marriage of Jesus and the Church. Jesus, who seeing the crucifixion that awaits him, agonizes in the Garden and speaks with His father, and who ultimately dies for his bride, the Church.

Husbands, this is our calling and it's tough to do. You see, for many of us, we have been instructed by the world that our identity as men is to “bring home the bacon.” But is that the fulfillment of our identity as men? Just yesterday, I was at my sister’s graduation from nursing school. And one of the commencement speakers, a famous nurse, warned the nurses to avoid working so hard that they came down with “compassion fatigue.” In a nutshell, compassion fatigue is caring so much about your work and about the people you work with that when you come home, you have nothing left to give to the real and more important relationships. We work so hard at work that we’ve sacrificed the people we are working to bring the bacon home for! And I love bacon, and we must bring home the bacon, but our Job Number One is not the bacon, but in getting our families to heaven. The world has our identity upside-down. We have to turn it right-side-up. That's our mission! "We will serve the Lord!"-- not bacon.
It’s hard to put ourselves out there—to say to our families at night that we need to pray together as a family (especially when we ourselves might struggle to pray). Brothers, can’t we see, then, that we can’t do this on our own? We need Jesus. And if we can't trust Jesus, then how can our wives be subordinate to us who are supposed to image him? If our wives do not follow us, we have only to look at ourselves who are also part of the Church for not being subordinate to the Church's husband: Jesus.

Our kids need us to do this, to find our identity in Christ. Because they’re watching us. They see whether or not we cherish our wives. They notice whether or not we are pulling out the chair for her or holding open the door. They notice if we’re always in opposite rooms or if we’re yelling and arguing. They notice when we make fun of our spouse and when we don’t respect the one we’ve married. They notice when we are bitter and when we fail to forgive. In a word, they notice when we are not being Jesus—the One we are to image.
Jesus washed Peter’s feet not only to make Peter his equal, but also to instruct Peter how he was to rule as a man: as the servant-king. And don’t our children need to know how to rule by service? Isn’t this the way of peace?
Where marriage goes, goes the family. And where family goes, goes the community. And where the community goes, goes the city. And the city, the nation. And the nation, the world. And suddenly we realize the truism of the 1960s: really: “Make love, not war.” War at home will mean war abroad. But love, love at home....
This is what Paul is telling us men, husbands: We must be like Jesus who, even as we are being crucified, we continue to love the Church, being forgiving and kind-- even when those around us reject us. The forgiveness must be initiated by us. We must take this first step—and yes, it could be rejected—and that scares us and can be discouraging. But we have courage. Our first vocation is to lead our wives and our families to heaven. We will serve the Lord!

The Vocation of the Wife: To Cultivate the Receptive Church

And so, my sisters in the Lord, wives: you have tremendous power. You can reject your husband’s offer of forgiveness and reconciliation. You can tell your husband not to hold the door open. You can spurn his hard work and take it for granted. You could tell him by the thousand little actions that you do and words you say each day that you don’t need him and that you can do everything yourself.
Sure, you could do it yourself… But if you do, you will become worried and worrisome. You will lose trust and faith. And your children won’t look for a savior either—they will look only to themselves. And they will grow like the wife’s, their mom’s, self-reliant heart: cold, bitter, and alone.
And that’s what so many in the Church say to Jesus today: “Jesus, I don’t need you.” “Husband, I can do it myself.” And they become self-reliant and godless and cold and bitter and alone. Does that not describe so many young adults in today's world?
Wives, you need to let your husband serve you. This is where he finds his identity; for to serve you is to be Christ. Will you let your husband be Christ for you? Your children need to see this.
And wives, you need to let yourself be served, because this is where the world receives its civility. That there are things beautiful and worth serving, something really worth laying down one's life for. And if you cannot let yourself be served, you who image the Church, then how can you expect your husband and children who themselves are part of the Church, to find a relationship with Christ their savior?

This is why Paul says, “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands.” This isn’t saying that you are less valuable or that you are weak or whatnot. No, it is rather that you are the Father’s chosen bride! You have so much value! You should be served—not because you’re weak (we know you can do it yourself)—but because you have so great a dignity: you image the Church, the one who gives birth to new life!

If we don’t need a savior, then the husband will never be the hero we need him to be, that he knows he can be. And are we talking about Jesus or the men now? Both.
And if your husband cherished you and listened to you and had your best interests in mind, then why wouldn't you follow him? It would be silly—because you’d be choosing against yourself. And are we now talking about the Church or the wives? Both.


Culturally, so many husbands and wives have passively re-defined their identities as male and female, and as a result have drastically altered their value and responsibilities as husband and wife. The result has been a world of brokenness—which is itself a hallmark of post-modernism.
TRUST needs to be re-established. HEALING needs to begin. FORGIVENESS must pour forth. This begins with the Cross and with the man—the man who must find himself on his knees before the Savior and then in the reception of the gift, the grace, of being a man, a husband, a hero. The wife, like Mary (who is the model and mother of the Bride, the Church), must learn receptivity to this gift; for only then will she grow in and understand her identity as wife and mother.
And yes, this could all be rejected, like those who mindlessly receive Jesus in this Eucharist (“this is my body, given up for you”) and do not change. But Jesus gives us his body and blood here once more, a renewal of the covenant, the marriage vows. Husbands and wives, find here the source and identity of our vocation. Re-discover your identity. Stand up for your family and lead them to heaven. Pray as a family tonight. Be as one flesh in prayer.
Yes! “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!”


  1. I have trouble translating this to reality of our lives. How do we avoid reading this and then just letting our fallen human nature sigh and wish our husbands were different?

    "And if your husband cherished you and listened to you and had your best interests in mind, then why wouldn't you follow him?"

    I can think of a lot of wives who would say, "Well, sure, IF my husband did all those things, I would follow him." What then?

    1. You are absolutely right in saying that this is hard to translate, especially when the husband doesn't do these things. In a way, I wish I had gone there, but the homily (for now) was primarily intended to spur husbands on to their identity while assuaging women's common aversion to this verse. I wish I could have covered everything...

      Nevertheless, to answer your question "what then"? First, I think there needs to be an honest examination at the state of the relationship: Did my husband ever listen to me before? cherish me? What were/are my expectations for these to be fulfilled? Are my expectations reasonable? Have I "taken over" when I felt that these things were not being fulfilled? Does my husband recognize that he is needed? How does he define "cherishing his wife"/"listening to her"? He might think he is doing these things. Would he be surprised to hear something contrary? Take an honest examination; not simply speculation. Bring this before the Eucharist.

      Second, the wife-- I believe-- should do what the Church would do: invite, invite, invite again, and invite again. This is different from nagging. Nagging is akin to complaining. Invitation is openness, not critique. "Would you like to pray with me?" Each evening before you and your husband go to bed, perhaps you say to him (at a good moment): "You know, my love, I think we should pray together." Maybe he says no. Maybe he completely rejects the gift. But the Church does not get angry. When the invitation is spurned, the Church invites again later. And, in the meantime, she prays for them. So, if your husband doesn't pray with you, then at that time you pray for him.

      Third, the Church suffers. This is the hardest. I am reminded of Romans 8:22-23 that says, "the whole of creation groans in labor pains until now, and not only creation, but we ourselves..." (Romans 8:22-23). The reality is, you should be longing for a different husband: namely, Jesus Christ. Strangely, by causing you to suffer, your husband offers you the opportunity for the grace to grow closer to the Spouse of us all: Jesus, our Beloved. And here's the beauty (strange as it is): as you suffer and are drawn closer to Jesus, you then start to offer your suffering to the Father through Jesus, so that the Father, having received your offering, will pour down grace for the conversion of your husband. Yes, the Church suffers for the conversion of sinners. And so, by your husband's sins, grace abounds: you could be led to heaven, and, by your sufferings, you become a source of grace to lead him to heaven too.

      But I have a feeling he will come around. Beauty attracts. And there is nothing more beautiful than a woman of grace. (And God has a long, established precedent of using holy women to bring back sinful men...)

      Should I think of more, I will write to you again.

  2. Summed up beautifully! My summation.....God is all truth, all good, and all beautiful!