Feast of the Holy Family
Second Reading:Colossians 3: 12-21
The chances are that, for some, the message of today’s reading will be summed up - and dismissed - by the last paragraph.
This would be a shame!
St Paul is setting out - in the whole of the reading - a vision of how the Christian community should live - beautiful words such as “compassion” “kindness” “humility” “gentleness” “patience” - bearing with one another - forgiving each other - and above all love.
If we dared to believe it to be possible - such a society would be truly heavenly.
For many people, though, it hits a problem when he speaks of wives giving way to husbands - a suggestion that irritates many people. It would be a shame to lose the beauty of the whole vision by taking one line out of the context of the rest.
St Paul was writing to a community very different from our own. In that society, a woman became a man’s possession on marriage. She had no real rights over her own life or those of her children and was totally dependent on her husband. If she was lucky, she might have a husband who treated her with honour and respect - but she could not guarantee that - and had no redress if he didn’t. Her situation was almost guaranteed to provoke resentment.
In the same way, children were completely under parental authority and had no say in what they might or might not want to do - again, fuel for resentment!
In his words to families, St Paul is putting into detail all that he has said before in the reading. The Christian family should not be a breeding ground for resentment and alienation. All the qualities of love - patience - respect - gentleness and forgiveness are to be brought into the home.
The suggestion that a wife give way to her husband is accompanied by his exhortation for husbands to love their wives as they loved themselves. In a world where love between husband and wife was a matter of luck, St Paul is offering something radically different - a relationship where mutual love and respect were worked on and seen as vital.
When we look at such readings from our perspective - perhaps we need to remember that, for women, this was new and something to be desired. Many of the first Christians were women who found these new teachings liberating.
What does it mean for me?
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