Wednesday of Holy Week
As we enter more deeply into this Holy Week, I am struck by the positive nature of Paul’s letters. They are encouraging, prayerful, instructive, supportive and, yes, affectionate.
A few weeks into writing this blog, I had to ask myself what I was doing. Making a commitment to write every day, show up and have something to say about what I had read. But at this juncture, I have to say I am glad that I did. I have learned a lot. And my primary goal was to keep Christ in my sights for these forty days. To pay attention to the Christ-life that I strive to grow into. It reminds me of something Maya Angelo said when some asked her if she was a Christian. She said ‘I am becoming a Christian.’
In Ephesians part of Paul’s parting instructions are about ‘morals of the home’. It is the oft quoted ‘wives submit to their husbands’. As indicated before in this blog, if we read the entire passage, we see that Paul is also telling husbands to love their wives. And, using Christ as the supreme example of martial love, Christ for his church; like Christ husbands are to ‘sacrifice’ for their wives. Paul goes on to ask respect from children for their parents and masters for those who serve them (‘slaves’). This was a reality of the times as well, but Paul is addressing the abuses that men, children and ‘masters’ committed, enjoining on them Christ-like treatment of one another.
It’s important to remember that this is a patriarchal world Paul is addressing and lives in. In his stance, he is addressing things as they are, where households are headed by men, but also going further and asking men to respect, love and honor their wives. Paul is championing a portrait of marriage as a mutual, respectful partnership, where love and the well-being of the other person is the foremost consideration.
The instructions in this passage are really aimed at the men who are being told to treat women as they would treat/love themselves. It is the man who is to leave everything else behind, father and mother, and give himself wholly over to this relationship, again mirroring Christ’s stance to his church. At the end of Philippians, Paul acknowledges the women who have a certain independence, are companions of his fellow assistants, and have aided him in the spread of the Good News, helped in defending the faith. He says Their names are written in the book of life. They are along with Paul and the other apostles, Partners of the Promise, bringing the new of its fulfillment, no longer as a place, but in the person of Jesus the Christ. Persons in their own right. Perhaps few and far between, but it was a beginning. It was the intention and imitation of Jesus, which Paul understood even more relevant to the Christ-life.
I am again reminded of something the poet Rilke wrote, that seems to me to be carefully hovering between the lines in Paul’s letters on the subject of women and their roles, roles that included discipleship and advancing the faith. In Letters to a Young Poet Rilke writes:
Someday there will be girls and women whose name will no longer signify merely an opposite of the masculine but something in itself…not of any compliment and limit, but only of life and existence: the feminine human being. This advance will change the love-experience, which is now full of error, will alter it from the ground up, reshape it into a relation that is meant to be of one human being to another, no longer man to woman. And this more human love…will resemble that which we are preparing with struggle and toil, the love that consists in this, that two solitudes protect and harbor and salute each other.