23 August 2009


We ORDO makers tend to notice things that you common folk might not spot. Today, for example, there's something odd about the second reading. You heard a passage from Ephesians and you heard it because here we use the modern Roman Lectionary. So, for the most part, does the Church of England. But the C of E decided to make an "improvement" in the selection for today. It chose a different passage from Ephesians. I will remind you of how our reading began, and then leave you all with just one guess as to why the Church of England decided to omit it. "Be obedient to one another out of reverence to Christ. Wives be subject to your husbands". Nuff said.

Of course, there are jokey explanations. There is the old story about the wife who explained how her husband made all the big decisions, she just obeyed him and made a few small ones. "He decides whether the West should get out of Afghanistan and how to solve the banking crisis, I only decide where we live, how we spend our money, where we send the children to school, and things like that". It's a picture many married men might recognise. Indeed, it's a picture we find in the Bible. In Proverbs, the Prudent Wife apparently runs the whole household and the entire family economy. She provides food for her household; she considers a field and buys it; she plants a vineyard; she opens her hands to the needy; her household are clothed in scarlet and her own clothing is fine linen and purple; she manufactures garments and girdles and does deals with the merchants. And - while she's getting on with all that - what is her husband doing? What is his contribution to the family economy? One thing only is specified in the Inspired Text: "Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land". Notice the verb: "sits". I've often wondered whether Proverbs may have been written by a female satirist. The husband's sole job, apparently, is to be a figure of respect and awe among the other menfolk as they sit and gossip in their male enclave and put the world to rights while the women get on with doing. Perhaps one could suggest that this model of female "subordination" does have its intriguing aspects. Joking aside, what's really going on is that in the ancient world, Hebrew, Greek, and Roman, and in most premodern societies, men and women did have distinct roles; men in a public forum, women in the domestic; and in this context the notion of the wife as subordinated to her husband does have a decidedly different look to it than if the words are stripped of context.

I will leave you with two minor additional thinking points. Firstly: could it be in fact right that men and women should have distinct roles and live and act within discrete structures? - rather than acting as we do in our unisex world? Would a lot of people, possibly, be happier?

And, lastly - I think I got this from the Tale of the Loathly Damsel (AKA the Lady Ragnold) in the Arthurian Cycle - there is the idea that women are so very much the dominant sex, so naturally programmed to dominate their menfolk, that the only way of slightly redressing the balance and restoring some degree of equilibrium is to try to subordinate them structurally. And, of course, ....

No .... er .... I think I'll end my sermon there.


Vincent de Paul said...

The words about the wonderful wife are actually described as being by "Lemuel, king of Massa, which his mother taught him." (Proverbs 31 v.1)
So these, if not the rest of Proverbs, are in fact the words of a woman.
For "taught him" read "drummed into him" perhaps?

Anonymous said...

Dang! I can't wait to let my wife know it's her fault that I'm a failure! I'm sure she'll be as relieved to find this out as I am.