“Be subject to one another, out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5: 21).
As a parish priest, husband and father, I have oft encountered examples where this short and simple verse offers so much in relation to our understanding of sacrificial love. In Stewardship, we are asked to be and become the caretakers of the world through participation in our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Today, we will examine what it means to be a “Good Steward” of the gift of marriage through an attentive reading of the “Matrimonial Epistle” read at every Orthodox Wedding Service.
“Wives be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22).
When taken out of context, this verse gives the impression (in our current politically correct culture) of a misogynistic and antiquated approach to family life. A wife should be expected to submit to the desires and whims of her husband. If our understanding of the marital relationship between husband and wife is that of a powerful familial patriarch lording authority over his family, I can understand if one has misgivings of such a model. But what exactly is the Christian understanding of this holy—set apart by God—relationship?
One has only to read a little further for an answer to what subjection means in terms of Christ. “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands” (Ephesians 23-24).
The subjection spoken of by St. Paul is one of sacrifice and salvation—not of oppression! Wives are called to willingly sacrifice their own desires for the sake of their husbands.
And lest one think that this sacrifice is a one-way street, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5: 25). Husbands are called—not simply to subjection—but to martyrdom for the sake of their wives! Husbands are called to completely sacrifice themselves for their wives, just as Christ sacrificed Himself for the Church.
Sacrificial Love—this is the true essence of Christian Stewardship. We are, as husbands and wives, called to mutual sacrifice, so that we might learn what it means (in some small way) to love one another as God loves each and every one of us!
So, how do we exercise this Stewardship in our daily lives? Each relationship has its own unique blessings and opportunities to manifest this agape, this sacrificial love. There are, however, many common areas in which couples can manifest sacrifice.
One of my favorite examples is in prayer. A wonderful and relationship building sacrificial exercise is to pray together as husband and wife. Begin one’s prayers as usual, and then, when it comes time to pray for more individual needs, have the husband pray for the needs of the wife, and likewise, the wife for her husband. It is an exercise that encourages open communication, as well as helping to lay the spiritual foundation for sacrificing the self for the sake of one’s spouse.
Another example can be found in the time spent for one another. Husbands, when is the last time that you sacrificed a personal desire in order to help your wife with one of her needs? Likewise, wives, when is the last time that you sacrificed a personal desire for the sake of his needs? It is time for us to allow our love to speak in terms of the time spent for our loved ones.
Now is the time for us to strengthen our relationships through exercising the sacrificial love upon which they are founded. Now is the time for us to truly exhibit Good Stewardship at home—in our house Church—so that we might strengthen our relationship not only with our spouses, but with God Himself.
The Gospel reading last Sunday showed just what can happen when we allow Christ into our lives to work. Simon Peter and the Sons of Zebedee were overwhelmed with the catch they took in—after having toiled all night (without Christ) to no success. So too we will be overwhelmed with the Light of Divine Love—when we allow Christ to enter into our marriages!