It's not what you say; it's the way you say it and it's what I think I heard you say...
As a marriage preparation coordinator, it is my privilege to work with engaged couples as they prepare for their marriage. Often, we close a session together with a reading, blessing or prayer from the marriage rituals from which the couple will choose their marriage celebration. Over my past eleven years, I can not recall any couple who has ever chosen the Ephesians' reading from today's scriptures, either as a closing for our session or as a scripture reading for their marriage liturgy. (If the couple ever considers the reading, it is usually in jest...it is a reading that does not speak to most married couples.) Current day marriage preparation programs emphasize the mutual respect, acceptance, understanding and covenant love between the spouses, realizing that this is all very dependent on ongoingly improving communication, listening and problem solving skills in the relationship.
Communication is a very tricky process. Not only do I need to try to communicate clearly to you what I really wish to say; it is also very important that you understand what and how I am trying to convey my meaning to you. Today's reading from Ephesians offers one such example of how something that was said in one manner, place and time has accumulated many differing layers of meaning and interpretations; so much so that today's scriptural interpretation of the passage from Ephesians needs so much explanation that I feel as if we are doing mental gymnastics just to understand what the real meaning of the text is.
As I reflect on the readings for today, I find myself very conflicted. How do I spend time reflecting on the reading from Ephesians that has caused so much pain for women and relationships? (The liturgical calendar does offer the alternative -as suggested by the United States Bishops- of choosing to begin the Ephesians reading with verse 25 rather than 21.) However, I have heard the reading begun from verse 21 over too many years, and verse 22 is embedded in my psyche: "...Wives should be submissive to their husbands as if to the Lord because the husband is the head of his wife just as Christ is the head of his body, the church, as well as its savior." Recent homilies urge us to focus on verse 21: "Defer to one another out of reverence for Christ." We are then encouraged to translate the meaning as, 'Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.'
But even this does not help me to listen to what the meaning may truly be...due to the fact that for so many years the interpretation from the pulpit emphasized the headship of the husband and the subjectivity of the wife in marriage. Unfortunately, this is what was heard by too many others who either took this as permission for husbands to keep their wives in submission and/or wives to acknowledge that what the husband says is law in the home. My work in domestic and intimate violence awareness in my parish, in my workplace, and in my diocese over these past three years offers too many examples of how this understanding of marriage led to very abusive and hurtful relationships.
In Luke's gospel today Jesus calls us to contemplate on what God's reign is like. God's presence on earth is like a mustard seed which a gardener plants. The seed becomes a large shrub where the birds find a nesting home. God's presence is also likened to the yeast that a woman adds to flour and as it is kneaded into the dough, the whole ball of dough begins to rise.
For me, Jesus' imagery of the mustard seed and the yeast speak of how a wife and husband are called to bring their gifts, talents and selves as God's image to one another. As they nuture their relationship and grow in their mutual love and respect of one another, their lives together become the nurturing nesting place for others to find shelter and love. Their diverse gifts, kneaded together through mutual respect and covenant love empowers their love and the lives of others to open to God's presence in their day to day living.
Someday I may be able to approach Ephesians with new ears and heart; but for today, Jesus' invitation to become a mustard seed or yeast in my life makes much more sense as I strive to make God's presence on earth real in my life.
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