GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
And it’s in that context that Jesus says the famous words and the kind of crucial statement, the difficult statement, in verse 63: “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
Alright, pause right here, because that verse, John 6:63, is the verse that really in a sense divides the way most Protestant Christians and Catholic Christians have read this chapter. As we’ve seen over the course of these five weeks, the Catholic Church interprets Jesus' words realistically. We believe that when he talked about his flesh being real food and his blood being real drink that he meant it. He wasn't just speaking metaphorically, he wasn't just speaking allegorically, he was speaking sacramentally and realistically. Protestant Christians however have a different take. They think that Jesus is using the bread of life as a metaphor for his teaching, for his presence, usually for his teaching primarily, and that he doesn't actually mean it realistically or sacramentally. And, usually non-Catholic Christians will point to this verse as kind of the foundation for their interpretation. I’ll frequently get asked this question by my Catholic students, you know, why don't Protestant Christians or non-Catholic Christians see the realism of John 6? I mean everything we've seen makes it real clear that he's talking about real food, real drink, the real presence in the Eucharist. And what I always try to bring them back to is this verse. You have to understand that this is kind of the lens through which they see the entire chapter.
In fact, I've found it very helpful in this regard to actually quote one of the first Protestant reformers in his interpretation of these verses. His name was Ulrich Zwingli. And Zwingli, he's not as famous as Martin Luther and John Calvin, those were the two famous Protestant reformers, most people think of them if they think of the Reformation, but Zwingli was very influential with his writings and he also had a pretty powerful influence on the Anabaptist and Baptist traditions, which have lots of influence and descendants in the United States. So if you know a Baptist person, they belong to a congregation that has its intellectual roots in Ulrich Zwingli’s thought, among other places. So this is what Zwingli had to say about this verse. So I want you to hear, in this case, a Protestant reformer in his own words, how he interpreted this verse and how it colored the way he saw all of John 6:
“Now I want no one to suffer himself to be offended by this painstaking examination of words; for it is not upon them that I rely, but upon the one expression ‘The flesh profiteth nothing’ (Jn 6:63). This expression is strong enough to prove that ‘is’ in this passage is used for ‘signifies’ or ‘is a symbol of’, even if the discourse itself contained absolutely nothing by which the meaning here could be detected... I have now refuted, I hope, this senseless notion about bodily flesh.”
Okay, so what does Zwingli mean when he says that? What he’s saying is this, in essence, I don't need John 6:1-62. I don't care what those verses say. All I need is this one verse, the flesh is of no avail, or the flesh profits nothing, or the flesh is useless; you can translate it a number of different ways. What he says is that verse, that part of the verse alone is sufficient to show that the whole discourse just means symbolizes or signifies. And when Jesus says the bread which I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world, he doesn't actually mean ‘is’, he just means symbolizes, right. So what is Zwingli doing? He's taking a text out of context and using it as a pretext for interpreting the whole passage in a metaphorical way. So already that should be a clue to you that that's an erroneous interpretation. Whenever somebody takes one verse or just a part of the verse out of context and says the rest of the verses don't matter, that's a sign to you that their interpretation is weak, that it doesn't actually…it can't take into account all of the data, all of the evidence in the Scripture passage. As Catholics, one of the things that’s distinctive about our interpretation is that we always try to put verses in context, right. So if I want to know what John 6:63 means, I don't do like Zwingli did and take it out of the context. I do the opposite; I put it into context and ask, what does it mean in light of everything else that Jesus has just said in the passage? That's how you interpret people's words correctly, right? You look at them in context. And sure enough, when we do that, when we read Jesus’ words in context, we see that Zwingli is completely wrong for a number of reasons. So let’s just walk through them.
First, number one...
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
Alright, so, first point. Everything that Paul is going to say in these verses, everything that he says occurs within a context. And the initial context is that very first verse:
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.
So Paul is beginning to give instruction to the Christians in Ephesus, who as we’ll recall, have converted from pagan ways of life, pagan immorality, pagan understandings of what a man is, pagan understandings of what a woman is, pagan understandings of what marriage looks like within a Greco-Roman pagan context, and he’s trying to give them (and substitute for them) a Christian understanding of what marriage is.
And so the very first principle that he lays out here is a principle of what John Paul II would later refer to as mutual submission. So the foundation of the relationship between a husband and a wife is a mutual subjection to one another:
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)
And so the reason I emphasize that is because many people — especially modern readers — when they see this “wives be subject” or “wives be submissive” verse, they immediately assume that Paul is talking about a kind of one-sided subjection where the husband is superior and the wife is inferior in dignity. And that’s just not true when you look at the verses in context, because Paul, as a Jew, is presupposing the equal dignity of man and woman.
If you go back to the book of Genesis 1, both male and female (in Genesis 1:26-27) are created in the image and likeness of God. So there’s equal dignity of man and woman. They’re both human beings with a rational nature, immortal souls created in the image and the likeness of God.
So when Paul talks about mutual submission, there’s a foundation to his words in that Jewish understanding of all human beings being created with equal dignity in the eyes of God. It’s a biblical principle. So we shouldn’t interpret him as speaking about inferiority or superiority, because clearly, the mutual subjection implies equal dignity. That’s the first point.
Second thing we want to highlight… after establishing that initial ground of mutual submission, now Paul is going to go into the specifics of the relationship between a husband and a wife. He begins with the wives, and he only gives them a few verses. But these are the controversial verses. So the first thing Paul says to Christian wives is that they are to be submissive, or subject, to their husbands as to the Lord. Now what does that mean? Again, many people assume that what Paul means here is that the wife is inferior, but that is simply an erroneous reading. It’s impossible to sustain such an interpretation when you look at Paul’s grammar, his language, and the context.
For example, when Paul says “be subject” or “be submissive”, the Greek word is hypotassomai
. Hypotassomai —
it literally means to be ordered under. Hypo
means “under”; tassomai
means “to order”, like a taxonomy in English means a certain ordering of things. Okay, so hypotassomai
, the best English translation is actually “be subordinate” … sub meaning “under,” order — you hear it in that word “subordinate”. Okay, so it is not a question of superiority or inferiority, but a question of an ordering of a relationship.
And you can see this very clearly by looking at two parallels. First example, if you go to Luke 2:51, Luke uses the very same verb, hypotassomai
, to describe Jesus’ relationship to Mary and Joseph. It says:
And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was [hypotassomai
] to them…
He was subordinate to them.
… and his mother kept all these things in her heart.
Now what does that mean? That means that Jesus obeyed His mother and father. He treated His mother and father... He respected His mother and father as
mother and father. Does Luke mean that Jesus was inferior to Mary and Joseph when he says that Jesus was subordinate to Mary and Joseph? Please say no. Alright, good.
No — that’s right. Jesus is not inferior to Mary and Joseph. Mary and Joseph, however holy they are, are mere creatures. Jesus is the creator become man. He’s God made flesh. He’s the word incarnate. He is infinitely superior to either Mary or Joseph, but
within the relationship of their human family, he willingly subordinates Himself — or is submissive
— to Joseph and Mary, to the will of Joseph and the will of Mary as His human parents. So it’s about the ordering of their relationship within the family.
But there’s even a better one than that. In 1 Corinthians 15:28, Paul himself uses the word hypotassomai
to say that Christ will be subordinate to the Father. This is really important. 1 Corinthians 15:28, Paul says:
When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected…
...or submissive or subjective or subordinate. You can translate it any way, hypotassomai
...to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one.
When Paul says that Christ is subject to the Father, does he mean that Christ is inferior? Please say no. That would be a heresy for him to say that. Although, I will point out that the Arian heretics loved this verse, because they used it to argue that Christ was inferior, that He was a creature and not God — not the Creator, not the uncreated God.
So the point is, that the Greek word that Paul is using when he says to wives to be subject to their husband, in no way implies the inferiority of women to men. What it implies is that within the relationships of the family, the husband is the leader. That’s what he’s saying. And he’s exhorting Christian wives to be submissive to the husband as the spiritual leader of the family. We’ll flesh it out in just a minute, but that’s the meaning of the word hypotassomai
. There’s an order within the family in which the husband is the head, or as we would say today, the leader.
Okay, now he gives an analogy for the headship of the husband. He says:
For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. (Ephesians 5:23-24)
So you notice here, this is important. Paul is describing … although he’s describing the mutual and equal dignity of husband and wife, he’s also establishing the Christian husband as the head and the leader, as the true leader of the Christian family. And so his exhortation to the wife is to respect the husband’s leadership by submitting to him as the leader of not just of the family — but he’s actually describing the leader within the relationship of just the marriage itself.
Now it’s very interesting to me, if you’ll notice … Paul gives just two verses to the instruction to Christian wives. Now he’s going to give about ten verses to the husband. He’s going to give a much more elaborate explanation for what husbands are called to do. So let’s see what he says to the husbands:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…
So whereas Paul exhorts women to hypotassomai
— to be subject to the husband as leader — he exhorts the husband to have agape for his wife, or agapaō
in Greek. This agape is the same verb that’s used to describe the sacrificial love of Christ. For example in the Gospel of John:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son… (John 3:16a)
That love is agapaō
or agape as a noun. So he’s calling husbands here to exhibit that love for their wives, and he draws again an analogy between Christ and the Church. So the wife imitates the Church, which subjects itself to Christ as head, and the husband imitates Christ, who loves the Church with a sacrificial life-giving love, who gives himself up for her. With this end in mind — this is so important — the reason the husband is supposed to love his wife like Christ loved the Church is so:
...that he might sanctify her…
It’s for her holiness, as he goes on to say:
...having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
So the analogy here is that the husband loves his wife with a sacrificial love for the sanctification of his wife, for her salvation, for her holiness. It’s a spiritual — this is important, it’s so important. It’s a spiritual love that Paul is calling the husband to, because it’s a spiritual leadership that the husband is called to by Christ as head of the family. So the headship that he’s talking about here is above all, primarily, spiritual. Now it covers everything that the family life and marriage life involve, but it is primarily spiritual, because it’s ordered towards salvation. It’s ordered toward sanctification.
So you’ll sometimes hear people say, maybe like in a nuptial Mass or nuptial homily, the priest will tell the husband, “Your primary task is to get your wife to Heaven.” That’s another way of expressing what Paul is saying here, that just as Christ loved the Church for the sake of Her salvation (for Her sanctification), so a husband’s love for his wife should be ordered toward holiness and toward her salvation. So that just as Christ presented to the Lord the Church without any blemish or spot or wrinkle — He wants to present to the Father the holy Church, cleansed of all sin — so too a husband’s principle goal should be to present to God the Father his wife as a holy and unblemished and beautiful bride. That’s the goal of the husband’s love, is her sanctification.
It’s one of the reasons that the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony (to get ahead of myself) is one of the Sacraments of Service. Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony are the two Sacraments of Service in the Catechism
, because they’re ordered toward the salvation of someone else. They’re not primarily ordered toward your
sanctification; they’re ordered toward the sanctification of others. With the priest, it’s ordered toward the sanctification of the people of God, and with Matrimony, it’s ordered toward the sanctification of your spouse. It’s not about you. It’s about them. It’s about their sanctification.
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