Sunday, Aug. 26, is the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B, Cycle II).
Joshua 24:1-2, 15-18; Psalm 34:2-3, 16-23; Ephesians 5:21-32; John 6:60-69
“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
That’s what the disciples in the Gospel say about Jesus’ words regarding the Eucharist.
But when we hear that in today’s culture, we might think the hard-to-accept saying is in the second reading — about wives being subordinate to their husbands.
The reading sounds shocking to us. But if it said the opposite of what it does, it would shock us even more:
“Wives should lord it over their husbands, for the wife and husband are separate, not united like the Church and Christ.
“The husband is not the head of his wife; he should not consider himself one body with her.
“Wives, push back against your husbands in everything.
“Husbands, do not love your wife as Christ loved the Church. Do not suffer for her.”
That sounds absurd as an exhortation, but it might be a fairly accurate description of what too many marriages become.
The bottom line for the reading from Ephesians is its first line: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This isn’t a call for dominance; it’s a call for humility and unity.
Keeping that in mind, realize the wisdom of the marital advice in the letter.
First, the shocker: “Wives should be subordinate in their husbands in everything.” Yes, the two are mutually submissive, but the reading undeniably makes a special point of the wife’s submission.
But consider what polls say are the most common complaints husbands have against their wives: “Women complain, criticize and nag too much,” “women are too controlling,” “women are seldom happy,” and “wives withhold intimacy from their husbands as punishment.”
In other words, while both should be subordinate to each other, perhaps women in general particularly need to hear the advice to be more mild and accepting.
Next, consider the advice to husbands: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her. … Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.”
This also seems suited to the most common complaints women have about men: “My husband doesn’t talk to or listen to me,” “he only pays attention to me when he wants intimacy,” and “he doesn’t show any interest in me or what I do.”
It seems that husbands might particularly need to hear St. Paul’s advice to love their wives with sensitivity, generosity and self-sacrifice.
The real lesson of the reading is that all of this advice will only work if it is done “out of reverence for Christ.”
Prioritizing a marriage around service to the Lord is guaranteed to elevate and direct it. It will also tend to make many problems fall away.
In the first reading, Joshua gathers the tribe of Israel and asks them to make a choice. Then he reveals the choice that he and his wife and children have made:
“As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."
You may have seen that verse on a placard in a house. Friends of ours have it embroidered and framed. It is a beautiful foundation for a family.
The Israelites found it inspiring, too. They agreed that they will serve the Lord, and they say why: Because he has done so much for them, even if they wanted to leave him, they couldn’t justify it.
That’s the same response the apostles give to Jesus in today’s Gospel.
When many of his disciples abandon him because of the teaching on the Eucharist, he asks the Twelve if they also want to leave.
“Master, to whom shall we go?” says Peter. “You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
This sounds hopeless, in one sense. Peter can’t think of a good reason to stay with Jesus, but he’s willing to stick around just because he’s Jesus. But it is exactly the kind of honest response Christ needs.
In our own married life, if things become difficult, we can say the same thing. We don’t always see why, but we know we are supposed to stick this out in order to stay close to the Lord. So that’s what we’re going to do.
So we can pray at Mass today: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” After all, where else would we go? And know that the grace of God will be there to give us true joy.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.