You’ve been there, sitting uncomfortably in the pew, waiting for the lector to read the dreaded Ephesians passage, the one that speaks the culturally anathema, “Wives be subject to your husbands…”
Sometimes you notice that the offending passages have been delicately bracketed, so that only St. Paul’s admonitions to the husband are going to be read, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church…” The lector gladly takes the hint, and you sigh in relief.
Yet, sometimes the entire passage is read while everyone looks uncomfortably downward, counting the seconds until it’s over. Once it’s over, you know you’re home free. Happily, no priest will ever preach on the whole passage, but will slip into the culturally comfortable preface, “St. Paul says to all of us, ‘Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ,’ and so we see…” Then follows a warm meal of platitudes served on a boilerplate, perhaps with a side of nervous humor.
But there is never any attempt to deal with the full passage—and I’m not talking about preaching full-throated subordination of women. I’m talking about the whole passage.
Well, that neglect made me want to figure out what’s really going on in the passage we dare not read aloud. I found the key in an odd place, the third chapter of Genesis, the Fall. As I finally realized after much puzzling, if we don’t understand the Fall, and especially its particular punishments, then we have no hope of grasping what St. Paul is actually saying. My hope in setting this all out is that those whose job it is to preach and teach will stop skirting the dreaded Ephesians passage, once and for all, and give it its due.