Sunday, 23 August 2009

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

We just heard a Scripture passage that many people dismiss, the one from Ephesians where St Paul says that women should "submit "to their husbands. I want to point out that it's DANGEROUS to just dismiss Scripture, even when it's a scriptural passage that is not easy to interpret. It's dangerous to dismiss Scripture because when we divorce ourselves from Scripture we divorce ourselves from one of our primary contact points with God Himself.

Of course, there are many Scripture passages that are difficult to understand. That is as true for me as a priest as much as for anybody else, I need to seek help if I'm to understand them.

When we have a tough text of Scripture the first thing we need to do is admit that it IS tough. And if something is tough to understand we need to seek HELP to understand it. As Catholics, we should understand that there is a Tradition within which the Scriptures were written and within which the Scriptures are to be understood. Similarly, as Catholics, we should understand that it was the authority of the Catholic Church that composed the Bible, and that discerned which books were truly inspired and to be included in the Bible, and which books were not inspired and not to be included in the Bible. And these two factors are what we need for any proper interpretation of the Bible: we need to look to the Tradition and see how the saints have interpreted any tough text of Scripture, and how the great theologians of the Church have understood this text; and, more authoritatively, we need to look to how the teaching authority, the Magisterium, has interpreted and does interpret any particular text of Scripture.

So if we take that approach to this difficult text from Ephesians: We see first, that the original context, its location within the tradition, was as one of what are called "household codes". It was part of a collection of brief exhortations calling on each member of the household to live his or her role and to live it well. As such, these codes where imbedded within the cultural norms of their time, while purifying them of what was hostile to the Gospel.
When we look to how the saints and theologians of the Church down the centuries have interpreted this text we don't see them establishing as permanently normative the pattern of society living and husband-wife models of ancient Ephesus. To take another example from these household codes of St Paul: the saints and theologians long condemned slavery even though it was normal in St Paul’s culture are he referred to it. Similarly with the teaching Magisterium of the Church.
How then has the Church interpreted this text of Ephesians? The primary thrust of this text, in St Paul’s own time and in our own, is to show what the MOTIVATION of the Christian should be in a household –it has to be a CHRSITIAN motivation. i.e. a husband must not only love his wife but love he must love her as the Christian that he is, because he is a Christian, motivated as a Christian, i.e. in that total self-sacrificing love with which Christ loved his Church and died for her. While wives: a wife is similarly to love AS A CHRISTIAN: in that humble and obedient fashion that the Church must love Christ.

Such an interpretation gives a woman a greater dignity then she possessed in the pre-Christian society. And, historically, it is reasonable to claim that such an interpretation is behind those legitimate aspects of the greater dignity afforded to women today. That said, not every aspect of modern feminism is compatible with the Christian Gospel. In particular, those patterns of thought that treat the body as something irrelevant to what we are, those patterns of thought that suggest that all we really are is our minds -such patterns of thought are actually a reversion to pagan pre-Christian thought patterns. The Jewish and Christian revelation from God indicates that while men and women are of equal dignity they are not the same: fathers and mothers complement each other and together form a whole family, man-man “marriages” or woman-woman “marriages” lack the ability to provide a proper parenting context of children. And this truth is also part of how the Tradition and Magisterium have interpreted texts such as this one from Ephesians.

So when we have a difficult text of Scripture, we need to always remember that Scripture is the inspired "Word of God". We need to listen to it and seek to understand it within the Tradition it was written in, the Catholic Tradition, and interpreted by Catholic Magisterium that first told people that this text was inspired, and today tells us how it is to be interpreted.

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