Here I am Lord,
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.
St Paul to the Ephesians 5:21
‘give way to one another in obedience to Christ’
‘Who do you belong to?’
When the feminist movement got off the ground in the 20th century; one of their first actions was to remove the vow to ‘obey’ from the marriage vows. St Paul was derided as sexist and as someone who hated women; no-one would read him. Yet Paul’s writings refer over and over again to his admiration and reliance on women in their nurturing of the early church. But Paul is infamous for his ability to produce ‘soundbites’ - nuggets of a phrase that stick in the mind and can be used like virtual weapons in a discussion.
Please don’t read Paul in ‘soundbites’; his letters answer important questions that we don’t even know; yet hold enough in them to talk to us now.
But never mind obeying our husbands; as a society we don’t much like obeying anyone; unless we can see the sense in it. The zigzags on the road outside school are for other people; as are the double yellow parking lines and disability spaces. The need to pick up litter; recycle; behave in public; hold doors for others are all good ideas that we can choose to follow – but if we don’t want to….Because we have free will and this is a free society. ‘Free’ suggests that this attitude comes without cost but it doesn’t. The cost of this type of freedom – the freedom to do what we will – is high. Because what happens when you clash with another’s freedom? Does this attitude to life suggest a person who will compromise; who will see the common good; who is living a life based on the Christian message?
Jesus was no angel… He did not and would not obey laws that were wrong. He would not accept instruction from people that were wrong and, in fact, he told us not to accept anyone on this earth as teacher or rabbi. That we belong to God and should be obedient only to him.
So now where does that leave Paul and the rewriting of the marriage vows? How are we ever supposed to get things right; specially when Paul’s letter takes the union of two human beings and then compares it to the union of Christ and the Church?
Paul probably thought he was making it easy but Paul’s Christ was only about one thing – Love. For obey – read Love; for submit – read Love; for regard- read Love. The love of a Christ who loved the unwanted and unclean; the love of a Christ who persevered with his childlike disciples; who washed their feet and sacrificed his life for them. And then continues to love and serve them even after the resurrection; cajoling; teaching; feeding – a never-ending torrent of love, which we may not deserve and we may not always appreciate but that is always there.
To see Christ in others and to be Christ to them means obeying the only Commandment Jesus ever gave us – ‘Love’.
Actually that’s what ‘obedience’ means; the ability to listen; pay attention – nothing about blindly doing as you are told; or refusing your own ideas or opinions.
But mostly what worries us about Paul’s letter is no more than ego; no more than false pride; that we can be instructed to do what someone else wants us to do, and remember that this was regarded as a lifelong commitment.
If we regard ourselves as Christians then we are making a lifelong commitment too. A commitment to Christ who doesn’t have ego; who doesn’t show pride; who regards himself as no more than his Father’s son and his Father the centre of his life. Knowing that God is present in each one of us – he loves us ‘that much’ too.
If you have spent time in contemplation developing this personal and loving relationship with Christ then you know how this feels. We are not meant to be alone with this feeling – like Grace it grows when it is shared.
To share with our immediate partner, our loved one seems obvious but often isn’t, especially if they are not church-goers or consider themselves spiritual.
But spirituality is a lot like mirror writing – you see and what you see reflects back on you; with two mirrors it becomes infinite. So it is not about preaching to the other person but about being and seeing Christ in you and in them. The committed couple are part of the foundations of Christian life; of a healthy society. And when the mirrors reflect again….
May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.