Ephesians 5.22-33

We remind ourselves that this letter is mostly about the Church, but this chapter conveys the link between the church, Jesus’ love for us and the love between spouses. Paul says, “defer to one another out of reverence for Christ” (v21). This is the Segway between church and marriage. We remind ourselves that the family is the domestic church. Matrimony is where life is born. This life gives birth to hope. It is called to be a place where love is found.

Paul gives a structure of the Church and marriage that may be offensive today. Most people hear the 22nd verse, “Wives should be submissive to their husbands…” and do not hear the rest. It is such a shock to us to read something like this. Before we get into all of this, we refer back to the previous verse to “defer to one another.” This shows the equality between husband and wife. Marriage is not something where dominance is the rule. They are equals. The other half of this verse goes deeper, “out of reverence for Christ”. As husband and wife, you are to see the dignity in each other. God has made each other as a gift. But they are more than a gift. God gives His very self in each other. There is a certain awe spouses should hold for each other. They are totally other, yet they have been made one flesh. The reverence they hold is for each other and for this special sacrament. This especially holds true where the grace of the sacrament is present.

The obedience of wives is understood as the obedience of all the faithful to Jesus. In this sort of parable, the wife is the Church as the husband is Jesus. Taking a step back again, the love between husband and wife is a living out of the love between Jesus and all the faithful. So every marriage conveys reality of the world and the gospel message of His love and mercy. This Church that submits to Christ includes the hierarchy; the pope, cardinals, all the bishops, priests, deacons and religious as well as the faithful.

Husbands are called to “love their wives, as Christ loved His Church” (25). How did Jesus do that? He died on the cross for the Church (He died for us, for you and me). Jesus was willing to suffer. Jesus purifies us. How? Through the sacraments in confession, the Eucharist, baptism and confirmation. God makes us holy and sees to it we are prepared to meet Him at the end of our lives. Hopefully we can look forward to that day when we would be united with God forever. I thank God for doing that. In a similar way, husbands are to help his mate remain pure of heart in the marriage and in faith. “Getting drunk on wine; that leads to debauchery” (v18) is not for the life of a husband. He must give up all such things.

Husbands are to “love their wives as they do their own bodies” (28). Paul is introducing a logical thought here. A person knows that they must take care of themselves. There are many people who do not take care of their bodies well. Yet we all know it is virtuous to make sure your health is good, keeping it in balance. Any man who has been married knows, if you are not attentive to your wife, you will feel it. It may be from her anger, or it may be from the pain she suffers. When one suffers, both suffer because they have been united in a very real way. The bond may not be seen, it is still there.

Our bond to Christ may not be seen, but it is still there. Though a husband may not be good at living out the love of Christ, Jesus never fails. “We are members of His body” and so are united to Him. As grace comes to us in the sacraments of the Church, grace also becomes an experience between spouses as they learn to love one another as Christ has loved us (Jn 13:34).

That’s a tall order for the Church and Marriage.

Father Barr