This weekend (Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B) our second reading is Ephesians 5:21-32. The passage speaks of marriage and how it is a symbol of Christ’s love for the Church. This reading is among the suggested readings for weddings but it is seldom, if ever, used.
Why? Because of one line in the passage, “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands.” In today’s society this is not popular. We speak of equality of husband and wife and “subordinate” doesn’t fit with equality. If all the passage said was, “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands“, the objections would be understandable but that is not all the passage says.
In fact, if we look at the line before it says, “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” If we see “subordinate” as always doing what the other person says, being “subordinate to one another” doesn’t make sense. This should tell us that the passage is speaking of something besides “obedience.”
There are times in a marriage when one person needs to make a decision. There should be dialogue whenever possible (realizing there are times when an immediate decision is needed so dialogue may not be possible) but when a decision is made it should always be made in consideration of the spouse’s needs and desires. Here I see a different perspective of “subordination”. It’s about being “subordinate” to the needs and desires of each other.
The other part of the passage that seems to be forgotten is the verse, “Husbands, love your wives.” Maybe the husband needs to make a decision but it must be made out of love for his wife. The same is true for anytime the wife might need to make a decision, it must be made with love for her husband.
For further reading check out “The Sacrament of Marriage” and “Mutual Submission“.