Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota
Year B, Proper 16
New Testament Reading
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.
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
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
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
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]
“dominion” [as under, and accountable to, God’s sovereignty], and
“stewardship” [“The Genesis text is a command to caring, responsible planned,
constructive use. It is the antithesis of a license for wanton destruction.].
To Reflections on other Readings for this
no reflection available
no reflection available
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
Gibbs or any MEESC
member, or mail them to:
Holy Trinity Episcopal Church
Elk River, MN 55330-0065 USA
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