There is a vast industry today devoted to telling people how to get married. And no, for the cynics, I do not mean the Catholic Church. We all know that bridal magazines run the size of Bible concordances, and there are entire television channels that seem to be devoted to no other topic.
The purpose of this reflection is quite different: it is to examine how to be married. For the sake of argument and of brevity, let’s pretend that there is not an equally elephantine industry devoted to telling couples how to do this as well.
So let’s jump right in and talk about Saint Paul.
Paul was, frankly, sort of a weird figure for me. He seemed like a really good afterthought—a great free agent picked up only after the team had won the World Series. I am nobody’s Pauline scholar, however I have to admit that he has grown on me over time. But a discussion of Paul is not the point of this reflection either.
Ephesians 5: that’s where this is headed.
Paul writes from prison in Rome (hey, at that point he had the time) a letter to the Ephesians because, even though he had preached there for three years on and off, he was not really at liberty to get back. The letter is theologically intricate and sublime. It also contains some pretty sound practical advice on how to live as a Christian community and as a family.
In Ephesians 5:22-33, we get a real whammy. It is not only Paul’s explanation of how Christ’s love for His church is exactly like a marriage. But, conversely and simultaneously, it is also his blueprint for how a husband and wife should live out their marriage as an example in Christ. It’s almost like this marriage thing should be considered sacramental and not just something celebrities do before an exciting divorce. Oh well…some day. It likewise sets up the central conflict in any marriage while providing the answer at the same time.
Okay, ladies, are you ready for this?
Ephesians 5:20: “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.”
I can hear the screams from here. If the women from “The View” get their hands on me I am as good as martyred. In very bad ways.
In case you gentlemen are having a chuckle right now, I would refer you down a couple more verses.
Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her.”
Ouch. Dang. How many men in the vocation of marriage are willing to sacrifice so much as dessert for their wives let alone love “as Christ loved the church” and sacrifice for their wives to the point of being tortured to death? Yeah – who’s laughing now, tough guy?
This sets up the central conflict in any marriage: who’s the boss? In other words, how does a couple reconcile the idea that, out of love, she is to subordinate herself to him as to God and he is to sacrifice for her unto death? Well, learning how to answer that together is how to be married. Finding, and living in, the zone where those two precepts intercept is the free-fall, no-other-traffic-in-sight, path that will have all those “other” couples wondering what the two of you are doing to seem so happy. I am not going to tell you there is a one-size-fits-all answer. The point of The Game, to paraphrase that old movie, is to figure out the point of THE Game. And when you live your lives in that spiritual question, you will find the answer together.
I am, however, someone who hates surprises, so I am going to give you a hint to get you started.
Ephesians 5:21: “Be subordinate to one another other out of reverence for Christ.”
Who’s the boss? No one. God is. Not him and not her. Be servants to each other out of your love for each other and out of your love, together, for Christ. You will find that “zone” and work through that seeming contradiction every day and you will love doing it. It is bigger than erotic love. It is even bigger than the friendship between man and wife: and that’s pretty big. It is permanent.
Anyway: Paul, Ephesians, obey, sacrifice, mystery, wedded bliss. Nothing to it, right?