Women’s Equality Day and Ephesians 5 Sunday

August 26, 2013, is Women’s Equality Day. Will homilists employ this fact in preaching on Ephesians 5:21–33 in the context of Joshua 24 and John 6:60–69?

25 comments

  1. I think on this 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, and at every given opportunity, one must point out clearly that there is a significant difference between ‘equality’ and ‘being identical’. Paul repeatedly points out our ‘equality’ before the Holy Trinity and in the gift of salvation coming to us via Baptism/Confirmation — but he does not note that the ‘built in differences of state in life or sexuality’ are obliterated in living out our daily lives. In fact this is part of the ‘great mystery’ Paul refers to in this reading from Ephesians 5. We are ‘equal before the Lord’ but we are not ‘identical’. We are like the varied ‘parts of the body’, in fact the Body of the Messiah/Christ. The Lord interacts with us as ‘discrete individuals’ and our called for response is to be as fully developed in our individuality of gifts before the Lord as we can be.

  2. An other interesting document of reference could be “The Declaration of the Rights of Women” dated September 1791. This was presented to the National Assembly by Olympe de Gouges (Marie Gouze 1748-1793) during the first French Revolution as equal to that of the more famous Declaration of the Rights of Man — which was passed by the Assembly and is often referred to. Her effort, which is worth reading and pondering for its 21st Century relevance, was rejected by the National Assembly, and she was guillotined in 1793. Upon re-reading it might prove an interesting ‘side remark’ at least on “Woman’s Equality Day” and in the light of the lectionary readings for 26th August.

  3. Sunday, August 26th on the Church’s calendar is the 21st Sunday in ordinary time, the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, or for some, the feast of our Lady of Częstochowa. Even my very secular calendar from Walmart, which seems to have a day or celebration for everything under the sun, does not have Women’s Equality Day on it. Why introduce a secular commeration (which could be viewed as a partisan battle cry against the epistle reading for the day) into the day’s Liturgy when this (below) is given by the Church to preach on?

    68 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
    69 And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.

    That profession makes us all equal.

  4. I think any homilist preaching on this reading from Ephesians should give careful consideration to how he might preach on Ephesians 6:5-9.

    As far as I know, those particular verses are not in the Lectionary, which raises the question as to why these verses were included.

  5. Thanks Philip–I know what it is and that the 26th of August is the day that the 19th Amendment went into effect. It doesn’t need a mention in church or during a sermon however. Especially on the day that particular epistle lesson is read.

  6. Brigid–because I feel that it pits the epistle reading against a secular agenda. Taken in the light of today’s society, any preaching on this epistle should stress that husbands and wives should have total, self-sacrificing love for each other and that their identity should mirror Christ’s love for his Church, not what (our) society says it should be. This epistle reading is about love, not equality.

    What other secular observances deserve a mention in preaching? What value would they add in their mention? Please note that I differentiate secular observances from civic observances. And as I said in my first post, with the rich and important gospel pericope (finishing the Bread of Life discourse) that is presented in the OF lectionary, why preach on the epistle this Sunday? Maybe it’s just easier to talk about equality or inequality than it is to preach Christ, the Son of the Living God?

    1. @John Kohanski – comment #8:
      All to often I have heard a homily which uses this reading to advance a secular agenda; and that agenda isn’t that husbands and wives should have total, self-sacrificing love for each other and that their identity should mirror Christ’s love for his Church

      I don’t think that I have ever been to Mass near Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Veteran’s Day without hearing many references to these secular holidays.

      Why preach on the Epistle this Sunday? Why is this portion of this Epistle in the lectionary?

      1. @Brigid Rauch – comment #17:
        Why preach on the Epistle this Sunday? Why is this portion of this Epistle in the lectionary?

        I’d prefer all the Scriptures were preached upon, but it’s hard to do that in a reasonable amount of time. Given that the readings cycle every three years, perhaps preachers could preach on the First Reading (+ Psalm) + Gospel one year A, and the Second Reading the next year A. You could also throw the orations into the mix as material for a homily.

        As to why this portion of the Epistle is in the lectionary, it’s because our Lectionary has four readings (First, Psalm, Second, Gospel) every Sunday, and the Second Reading during Ordinary Time is taken sequentially from the NT Epistles. As you’ve pointed out, the selections from the Epistles omit certain passages which are never heard. So that’s how it comes to be that on this particular Sunday, this particular passage from Ephesians 5 is coupled with an OT reading and a Gospel passage concluding the Bread of Life discourse.

        But I’m sure you knew this already. Regardless of WHY this portion of the Epistle is in the lectionary, it’s in there, which means it can and should be the subject of a homily, regardless of the other readings. If the Bread of Life discourse trumps all other Scripture, that’d be rather unfair.

      2. OK Brigid–I’m with you there. I’ve heard this reading used to advance an agenda too. And it was quite opposite of what the Church teaches about how husbands and wives should relate to each other. My point was that preaching on this epistle should be about true spousal love, not the submission of women to men or women’s liberation.

        Please note that I differentiated between a secular day and a civic holiday. Memorial Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving etc. are civic holidays. Some I believe even have a proper Mass in the Missal.

        And like Jeffrey, I agree all scripture for the day should have some mention in preaching. However, sometimes it’s a stretch to link or mention all three readings, and this is one of them. And ultimately if a preacher has been using the Bread of Life discourse for the last several weeks, this concluding reading “brings it all home.” I guess that I see more importance in this day and age to preach on the Bread of Life, especially since we only hear this chapter of John in order so infrequently.

  7. Brigid Rauch : As far as I know, those particular verses are not in the Lectionary, which raises the question as to why these verses were included.

    Good point, Brigid. You are probably aware that Ephesians 5:21—6:9 are Pauline household rules, all predicated on verse 21: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The following is from http://www.usccb.org/bible/ephesians/5:

    [5:21–6:9] Cf. notes on Col 3:18–4:1 and 1 Pt 2:18–3:7 for a similar listing of household duties where the inferior is admonished first (wives, Eph 5:22; children, Eph 6:1; slaves, Eph 6:5), then the superior (husbands, Eph 5:25; fathers, Eph 6:4; masters, Eph 6:9). Paul varies this pattern by an emphasis on mutuality (see Eph 5:20); use of Old Testament material about father and mother in Eph 6:2; the judgment to come for slave-owners (you have a Master in heaven, Eph 6:9); and above all the initial principle of subordination to one another under Christ, thus effectively undermining exclusive claims to domination by one party. Into the section on wives and husbands an elaborate teaching on Christ and the church has been woven (Eph 5:22–33).

    1. @Paul F Ford – comment #10:
      Note that the USCCB uses the terms “inferior” (wives, slaves, children) and “superior” (fathers, masters). Speaking as an “inferior”, it sounds to me like certain “superiors” are using this Scripture to justify a society organized upon hierarchy rather than mutuality.

  8. Anent Comments 1 through 9, I was intending to provoke a deep discussion of equality along these lines from the novel, That Hideous Strength, by C. S. Lewis (Chapter 7, Section 2):

    “I thought love meant equality,” she said, “and free companionship.”
    “Ah, equality?” said the Director. “We must talk of that some other time. Yes, we must all be guarded by equal rights from one another’s greed, because we are fallen. Just as we must all wear clothes for the same reason. But the naked body should be there underneath the clothes, ripening for the day when we shall need them no longer. Equality is not the deepest thing, you know.”
    “I always thought that was just what it was. I thought it was in their souls that people were equal.”
    “You were mistaken,” said he gravely. “That is the last place where they are equal. Equality before the law, equality of incomes—that is very well. Equality guards life; it doesn’t make it. It is medicine, not food.”

    1. @Paul F Ford – comment #11:
      I love “That Hideous Strength ” because it so clearly captures the pitfalls of the academic life. However, i would point out that when Mr.Lewis wrote the material quoted above, he had no experience of married life!

  9. Another favorite passage from C. S. Lewis, this time from the essay “Membership”:

    . . . the Christian life defends the single personality from the collective, not by isolating him but by giving him the status of an organ in the mystical Body. As the book of Revelation says, he is made ‘a pillar in the temple of God’; and it adds, ‘he shall go no more out.’ That introduces a new side of our subject. That structural position in the Church which the humblest Christian occupies is eternal and even cosmic. The Church will outlive the universe; in it the individual person will outlive the universe. Everything that is joined to the immortal head will share His immortality. We hear little of this from the Christian pulpit today. . . . If we do not believe it, let us be honest and relegate the Christian faith to museums. If we do, let us give up the pretence that it makes no difference. For this is the real answer to every excessive claim made by the collective. It is mortal; we shall live forever. There will come a time when every culture, every institution, every nation, the human race, all biological life, is extinct, and every one of us is still alive. Immortality is promised to us, not to these generalities. It was not for societies or states that Christ died, but for men. In that sense Christianity must seem to secular collectivists to involve an almost frantic assertion of individuality. But then it is not the individual as such who will share Christ’s victory over death. We shall share the victory by being in the Victor. A rejection, or in Scripture’s strong language, a crucifixion of the natural self is the passport to everlasting life. Nothing that has not died will be resurrected. [concluded in the next comment box]

  10. That is just how Christianity cuts across the antithesis between individualism and collectivism. There lies the maddening ambiguity of our faith as it must appear to outsiders. It sets its face relentlessly against our natural individualism; on the other hand, it gives back to those who abandon individualism an eternal possession of their own personal being, even of their bodies. As mere biological entities, each with its separate will to live and to expand, we are apparently of no account; we are cross-fodder. But as organs in the Body of Christ, as stones and pillars in the temple, we are assured of our eternal self-identity and shall live to remember the galaxies as an old tale.

  11. Is Ephesians 5:22-33 still an option for the second reading in the reformed nuptial Mass? In Western traditions, Ephesians 5:22-33 is the required epistle reading in the Tridentine nuptial votive Mass. Ephesians 5:22 — 24 is also a part of the 1662 Prayer Book matrimonial service, contained within a priestly exhortation following the vows. The epistle for the Byzantine nuptial crowning liturgy is Ephesians 5:22–33, as in the Tridentine liturgy.

    Two correspondents offer divergent but also necessary perspectives which relate to the historical precedent of Ephesians 5 in nuptial liturgy and its appropriateness today:

    As Philip Sandstrom contends,

    Paul repeatedly points out our ‘equality’ before the Holy Trinity and in the gift of salvation coming to us via Baptism/Confirmation — but he does not note that the ‘built in differences of state in life or sexuality’ are obliterated in living out our daily lives. In fact this is part of the ‘great mystery’ Paul refers to in this reading from Ephesians 5. We are ‘equal before the Lord’ but we are not ‘identical’. We are like the varied ‘parts of the body’, in fact the Body of the Messiah/Christ.

    As Brigid Rauch responds to Paul Ford,

    Note that the USCCB uses the terms “inferior” (wives, slaves, children) and “superior” (fathers, masters). Speaking as an “inferior”, it sounds to me like certain “superiors” are using this Scripture to justify a society organized upon hierarchy rather than mutuality.

    Can the message of a differentiated but also mutual life in Christ reflected in marriage supersede the offense many brothers and sisters in Christ experience when encountering late antique social structures and their literary expressions? This question must continue to be developed in charitable dialogue. The historical implications of Christian nuptial liturgy cannot be ignored either.

  12. It occurs to me that this passage is liable to be read out either by a married woman or a married man. As a married woman, I’m glad I’m not going to be reading it; I think doing so properly is beyond me. However, I pity the married man who is called upon to read it!

    1. @Brigid Rauch – comment #21:
      It will be read at my parish, as per usual, by the sub-deacon. On that Sunday, the person serving as sub-deacon according to the rota, is an 18yo single male college freshman.

  13. I see that C. S. Lewis has been used here as a varnish to somehow add luster to the argument that excluding women from ordination is a “maddening ambiguity of our faith”. Unfortunately Joy Gresham didn’t live long enough to give Lewis enough well placed kicks in the pants on this subject.

    During my years at St. John’s Seminary, I heard firsthand many similar attempts to rationalize and theosophize what has been, and continues to be, “mere sexism”. “Faith” has no part in these Pauline musings when it comes to women and ordination, at least insofar as they were homilized at my parish.

    Paul suffered under many limitations – cultural, religious and otherwise. Lewis was clearly no exception to them either. We shouldn’t use their failure to fully hear the gospel as an excuse to divinize or rationalize our own deep seated biases either.

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