Environmental Stewardship Commission (MEESC)

Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota

Lectionary Reflection Year B, Proper 16 New Testament Reading

Ephesians 5:21-33

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind--yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.

NRSV Copyright Statement
Reflection on Ephesians 5:21-33 by John G. Gibbs, PhD

Mutual subordination is key to forming Christian community. But you can already hear objections arising from most folks who hear that these days, for they imagine things about the Church that never were her ideal. Before we continue, then, a brief aside about biblical interpretation and what it might have to do with environmental stewardship:

“Religious Models for Environmentalism: Rediscovery or Retrofitting?” is title of Thomas Sieger Derr’s article in The Princeton Seminary Bulletin, XXIV/1 (Feb. 2003), 94-103. If ecological responsibility has become a hot potato in your circles, you might find interesting (as well as sometimes exasperating) this article. As most of us have experienced, many Christians regard environmental ethics as a subsidiary (if that) issue for the Church. Some maintain that the major focus of scripture is salvation by one’s “personal Savior.” Others claim that the major focus of scripture is the People of God and their relations to God and the world of human society. If the former is individualist, the latter is anthropocentric. Derr’s article, I find, is itself both a rediscovery of certain biblical meanings (which he deems legitimate) and a retrofitting (which he deems illegitimate), albeit his is a retrofitting of some biblical texts to fit his own presupposition that in the Bible “God’s way with the natural world” is not equal in importance to “the story of God with humankind.” At times, as it seems to this writer, Derr is on target, as when he defends the biblical categories:

At other times Derr’s reading of scripture (and the hermeneutics of many others) appears to be analogous to “strict constructionist” readings of the U. S. Constitution, for he objects to our finding implications in “original” meanings of texts that extend beyond the “original contexts” of those texts. For example, he objects to use of Phil. 2:5-11 and its model of Christ as servant as a “paradigm for our treatment of the natural world, not just for our relations with each other (which is the original context)” (95). Such an objection misses this, however: As we humans live among ourselves, so we live among all creatures. Who we humans are among ourselves is who we are on the ecological landscape. In his modeling servanthood, Christ became the preeminent paradigm of what it means to be human. No fences are built around that paradigm that confine it to certain areas of human life and omit any other area. How we learn to behave within human community is how we learn to behave in the world at large, including the creation entire. Fateful for the earth is whether we are domineering “types” or caring people who “go the extra mile” to help others. The former people will be prone to acquisitive behavior that regards nature only as “resources” for achieving their aims. The latter people will be prone to live peaceably within the creation, nurturing it, and preserving creation both for posterity and for its own inherent value. These observations bring us to the point of this epistle text: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Other commentaries have amply shown that here there is no one-way unhealthy self-denial that can only exacerbate the human condition by encouraging both tyranny and ego destruction. Only our focus on how the Church is “subject to Christ” can save us from rescuing wives (who are to be “subject” to their husbands?) only by taking scissors in hand and cutting Eph. 5:24 out of the canon. Granted, the author of Ephesians reflects the patriarchalism of his time, something that the Ephesian gospel itself requires us to transcend. That is the whole point of seeing Christ as the paradigm of all our human relationships, the paradigm of what it means to be human. Christ does not dominate the Church. “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (5:25). That way the Church appears before him, as before all the world, “in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind.” Not a word here about creation, except for those who have eyes to see. Not anything of significance for how humans behave in the creation, except for those who have ears to hear. During a press conference that announced the award to Holmes Rolston III of the 2003 Templeton Prize for Research or Discoveries in Spiritual Realties, Holmes said this: “After we learn altruism for each other, we need to become altruists toward our fellow creatures. …We must encounter nature with grace, with an Earth ethics, because our ultimate Environment is God – in whom we live, move, and have our being.” [Reported at Davidson College in the Davidson Journal, XXXII/#2 (Summer 2003), p. 7]
Copyright Statement

To Reflections on other Readings for this Sunday:
Old Testament Joshua 24:1-2a,14-25
no reflection available
Psalm 16
OR
Psalm 34:15-22
no reflection available
New Testament Ephesians 5:21-33
this page
Gospel John 6:60--69

John Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, attends Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN. He originally wrote this reflection in 2003. He and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:
MEESC Holy Trinity Episcopal Church Box 65 Elk River, MN 55330-0065 USA

The MEESC assumes that all correspondence received is for publication on this web site. If your comments are not for publication, please so note on your correspondence. The MEESC reserves the right to decide which items are included on the website.


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