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Thursday, August 9, 2007

Wifely submission

Honey, get me another beer! ?!

This past weekend as a family we went to the Midwest Catholic Family Conference and saw some really great speakers including one of my favorite local priests who gave (from what I hear because I had to get off to work but I am awaiting the tape) a wonderful talk and is just a generally great guy. Alright, so an interesting topic was mentioned by Fr. Gorges was his standard homily that he delivers at weddings, he always preaches on Ephesians 5:21-32 even though he fully understands that most of the couples probably won’t pick it as one of the readings they use in the wedding. Now, if you don’t remember what this selection is, let me remind you.

“Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband
is the head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the
savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be
subordinate to their husbands in everything.” --Ephesians 5:22-24

This is the part that most people are familiar with and there is probably the greatest controversy about this part of the passage. Should a wife ask her husband for help around the house when she is tired? Does submission require her to do all (and I mean ALL) of the housework while her husband goes away to work and then comes home and relaxes or goes and enjoys recreational activities? Should a wife never be able to refuse her husband her wifely duty?

I know some people who say this passage is the most oppressive part of the Bible and they outright reject it. I know other people who believe that the wife has no ability to ask her husband for help around the house or object to options that he has presented. For example, the pregnant woman that is tired and has a sink full of dishes, can she ask her husband for help when he gets home from work? Does that same woman or the mother of a sick toddler have the right to refuse her husband when she is exhausted at the end of the night?

I think we really have to look at this text completely, especially verses 21 and 25-28, but it would be good for you to grab your Bible or go here and read the full section from 21 to 33. 21: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Verse 25-28: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle blemish.”

Okay, so now I think we need to take a big step back and start at my take/Fr. Gorges’ take on wifely submission and the economy of love in marriage. Let us first approach the topic from the text that we find in Ephesians. First, we need to look at the word submission and define it. What is the origin of the word submission? The root of the word is “sub missio”, and these two Latin words have very specific meanings: sub=under missio=mission. Alright, if we look at verse 21 we see that husbands and wives are subordinate or under the mission of the other out of respect for Christ (I believe this is because the gift of the spouse comes from Christ, an important point that we will have to blog more about later). So we can see that both spouses purpose in marriage is to be under the mission of the other spouse. The point is that we are both trying to get to heaven and my, as a husband, purpose in marriage is to make sure my wife is able to journey to heaven. Conversely, my wife’s purpose is to make sure I get to heaven. This is mentioned specifically for the husband in verses 27-28 of the 5th chapter of Ephesians.

Ok, back to our task at hand in figuring out what the role of wifely submission is in the context we have set up here. If my wife is under my mission (submission) what is she supposed to do? Well, what does it say that the mission of the husband is? Well, in Ephesians 5:25 it simply says that I, as husband, am to love my wife as Christ love the Church. How did Christ love the Church? He teaches is, ministers to it, feeds it, provides for its needs and finally, suffered and died for it on the cross so that the gates of heaven would be opened to the Church.

Ok, so if my wife is under my mission (its given to me by God, not determined by me) that means she is supposed to help me give up my entire being for her so that she can get to heaven. Doesn’t sound like to bad a deal for her does it?

Another way of taking a look at this is the way that Christ takes a look at the role of marriage. In the Gospel of Matthew He directs us to the model that he set for marriage while talking about divorce. “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” –Matthew 19:8

The late Pope John Paul II used this passage in his work on the Theology of the Body to point us to where we should look at for a picture of God’s model of marriage. The book of Genesis and creation of man, specifically the second story of creation in the second chapter. God created man outside of the garden in the wild (Genesis 2:7-8) God then made trees and put the man in charge of all that was created, the man was in charge and he was responsible for what happened in the garden(Genesis 2:15-17). Now, God makes the statement that it is not good for the man to be alone and decides to make him companions to see who would partner with him. God made creatures to see who would be a partner for his mission. (Genesis 2:19-20). Finally, God made woman, from out of man and this was the creation that would be the partner for the man in his mission. The one whom would work with him and help him in his mission and responsibility to be responsible for all that is. (Genesis 2:21-23).

My thought on my household and running it is my responsibility, God has charged me with the responsibility. My wife is my help-mate, she is my partner, the one who works beside me and helps me as we battle the battles that we face in life. She is not to fall at my whims and be responsible for whatever I command her to do, but she is here to do things with me to help me accomplish my mission. This does give me authority over her but as a husband I must order it to the end that was given to me. I must give of myself completely to her. Now I must say that this is only possible through Christ, as I am an imperfect fallen being.

This is not something that I can hold over my wife and have her do everything around the house while I sit and relax because I go and slay the dragon for 8-12 hours a day. I shouldn’t expect her to mow the lawn and do all the tasks at home. As parents are workdays are almost identical. They are identical in the fact that they begin when we wake (we are just on-call while we sleep, you know kids do get sick or have nightmares) and end when we retire to bed for sleep. Mine just involves me going somewhere else to get money so that I can buy the things we need and my wife’s is mainly present here at the house as she is a stay-at-home mother. We both have a need for resting and recharging but I don’t get from the time I get home from work until I go to bed four hours later.

If you read the little house books, Pa worked all day from sun up to sun down away in the fields when that was his duty and Ma worked all day at the house. Family time and work for Pa around the house occurred when he wasn’t or couldn’t be out doing the work away from the home. He didn’t come home and put his feet up and ask for Ma to bring him a beer while he read the paper or made plans to go golfing. Ma in some ways had it easier; she hardly left the house, no soccer games or home-school meetings or grocery store runs. So, what is wifely submission? Help your husband become more like Christ, treat his words as if they came from Christ (unless they are immoral) and ask for things from him as if you were asking Christ himself. Most importantly, help your husband give his life to you as Christ has already done.

Under the Mercy,

Matthew S


William Eunice said...

I think the best take I have read on this is here

Ours is to sacrifice. Theirs to submit. If I love my wife then I take up the cross of cleaning the dishes for her when she needs it. She cannot help me if I am not abiding by my role as "Christ" for the Domestic Church. If I abide by my role her submission is a natural because my leadership qualities as head of household are more like that of Christ. If I ignore what is said to me and demand what is asked of her I have already failed in my role as head of household by misrepresenting the image of God to my wife and my children.

Anonymous said...

How much more is my desire to honor and obey my husband when I can feel that he truly loves me. My own father was so loving and kind to my mother - he knew from the moment he walked in from work if she had a hard day (as she knew for him as well), and would quickly offer to assist her in finishing up dishes or setting the table, or changing a baby. My mother and father loved each other incredibly, and had a holy marriage - they honored each other. My Mother most lovingly and gently submitted herself to my father, but he never DEMANDED it. To have done so would have made her a slave, not a loving submissive wife.

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