The Readings for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)
Ego autem et domus mea serviemus Domino.
I myself and my house will serve the Lord.
On the one hand the lectionary for the Novus Ordo Missae gave us more Bible to chew on. On the other hand, curiously, it allows for it to be more watered down. The same is true in the Daily Office. There are more texts to read… but more options to skip parts we don’t like. The Daily Office skips verses of the psalms that are “problematic”, and the Mass lectionary allows us the option of skipping whole passages. One such event is in today’s Lections where, if so inclined, a parish can skip over all the troublesome bit about “being subject” and just get on with the “love” part. Mind you, the love part has no context without the “be subject” part. But that’s never stopped anyone from editing out things that convict them of wrong-doing… or, as they say today, make one feel unsafe.
The two choices are both listed on the lectionary page for today.
I was assigned this reading as lector so I wrote an email asking which version I was to have ready. The response was be ready to do either but it was up the homilist. I wondered why the homilist picked the shorter one. Then it dawned on me that since he was not preaching on the Epistle, maybe he didn’t want to leave it floating out there without comment. That may be the real reason to skip a passage: so that you don’t have to talk about it when you’d rather highlight something else. That made good and charitable sense. But the effect is still the same: we don’t do this passage any more.
Subversion of the social order was Paul’s special charism: he took things like the political and family structures and turned them to tools for working out our salvation in fear and trembling. God’s providence had placed us where and when we are. So salvation was possible where we are, not needing to run away to another place. All we needed to do is…
Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.
A monastic in the Eastern Rites understands this from the get go: when a man is about to be tonsured, as the superior is raising the scissors to cut his hair, the scissors are dropped to the floor. The novice is told to pick them up. The rite begins again, except the scissors may be be dropped three (or maybe more) times. Each time the Novice is told to pick them up.
Obedience is where we give up self-will and begin to find salvation.
Now men had a hard time in Pagan Rome for no free Pater Familias was under any social obligation to obey someone else on a regular basis. Paul puts the man under the obligation to love.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her,
Paul is here breaking apart the Roman Family, the traditional Roman marriage. Paul is subverting this order. He’s making a Christian Sacramental Action out of a Roman Civic Contract. To a pagan man, a wife was his property. To a Christian man, she was his own flesh. To a pagan, there was a contractual obligation involved. A husband owned everyone in his household. To a Christian man, his wife and his children were a chance to go to the death in Agape love.
Wives, however, have a built in social obligation to use for this purpose. This is why,
Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.
And a wife of a Christian man would take comfort in the fact that the husband must agape the wife. But even a Christian wife of a Pagan might take comfort in knowing that by obeying her husband, by sacrificing her self-will, she was becoming the best Christian possible using the tools she had to hand in God’s providence.
Paul wanted his folks using the cultural tools and not risking trouble by breaking the local laws unless those laws also broke the law of God. A Roman Pater Familias might send his family starving into the streets, or expose unwanted babies and seniors on the hillside. A Christian certainly could not do so, nor could a Christian stop a pagan from doing so. But, once done, a Christian could open their homes in the name of Agape to those thus abandoned. A Christian could not divorce his pagan wife or her pagan husband. But a Christian should open their homes to those so divorced because of their faith.
Paul’s subversion of the Roman Order was so important that, after trying it out in Rome, he sends Titus to literally take over Crete with this Novus Ordo Seclorum, hoping to change the entire Cretan society by changing the way the family functioned.
Today, when we might hear this passage incorrectly as “Sexist” and “Patriarchal” it is good to be reminded that it is revolutionary to Pagan Romans.
How do we apply it in today’s culture? Certainly not by recreating the Pater Familias and trying to rule the household with an iron fist. But if we – my household and I – or “your household and you” – choose the Lord what does that mean for us?
The clue is in verse 21. The Greek word describing how we are all to be one-to-another (of which the relationship of Husband and Wife is only an example) is ὑποτάσσω hypotasso from two Greek roots, “under” and “arrangement”. Brothers and Sisters, but yourself under each the other’s arrangement. Let others make choices for you.
This is the same word used in Luke 2:51 to describe Jesus’ relationship (as God) with Joseph and Mary.
And Paul doesn’t say to do this – as the NABRE would have it – out of “reverence” for Christ. Paul’s Greek says we are to do this out of fear of Christ. The person giving us so much Agape is to be viewed in phobos, in holy awe, in fear.
This is why it is good for every Christian, lay, monastic, or cleric, to be under obedience to someone. For some of us – after 50 years as unmarried wild cards in the world – this might be most important. But it must be someone who takes those reins in Agape. This passage tells us it’s not enough just to go to Mass. Submission to another in Love is part of this process. We must stand with Joshua and say “As for me and my house”.
No one is saved alone.