Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Front and Back

Front, back; first, last. Jesus in today's Gospel is telling us to expect God to turn things upside down. And in the first reading, that is kind of what Paul is doing. The passage from Ephesians is one of the so-called "household codes" common in the Roman Empire. But since Paul is saying what a Christian household looks like, he has some definite alterations to make. If yesterday had not been a feast day, we would have heard the first part of this passage, the infamous (in our day), "wives, be submissive to your husbands." Few people in our day go beyond those few words. If they did, they would begin to realize that Paul is actually introducing something quite new:  he is telling everyone in the Christian community to cede place mutually. He spends a lot more words telling husbands how they are to respect their wives in this new Christian economy: not as "lords" over them (the norm in that day), but as Christ the Lord, in the way that he loved the Church. 
Today, Paul moves into other family relations. He starts with the children: what their "duties in the Lord" are. It is interesting that he again starts with the "lesser" party in the equation: earlier, he spoke of wives before husbands; now he speaks to children before addressing the parental units, and next he will address slaves, putting them ahead of the masters.  In each case, those who come "first" in the Roman order of things are put last, and those who are last, dependent and vulnerable, are first.

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