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 Saviour. 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 splendour, 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.
Jesus said to his disciplestherefore, "What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches."
And again he said, "To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened."
Deep in our human nature is planted a seed that is meant to grow in surprising ways; there is an inner "yeast" to transform us as in the dough that is baked into fresh bread, the staff of life. Marriage, one of the most basic, elementary of human institutions, mirrors the mystery of Christ's love for the church.
Christian hope is not centred on looking heavenward but attends to the details of human life. Ephesians suggests that marriage, family and marital love are spirited by the example and the immediate presence of Jesus. Where there is faithful, fruitful marriage, it is a powerful image of Jesus' love for the church. Both aspects of love, within marriage and within the church, result in holiness. It is helpful to apply to marriage, as is intended in this passage from Ephesians, what is said of Christ's love for the church: He gave himself up for her to make her holy. Proposing that wives should be submissive to their husbands is an outdated ideal that should be interpreted as a cultural inheritance from that ancient time. This same section of Ephesians also speaks of the obligation of slaves to obey their masters (Eph 6:5). No one would quote this today to support slavery, that was also part of culture of that time.
If we seek our place in the reign of God, we must reverence the hidden mustard seed of divine possibility in our lives. We must be like the woman who so kneads the yeast into the dough that other people's lives rise with freshness, life and dignity.
The two parables in this morning's gospel, one involving a man and the other involving a woman—have a similar focus. In both cases a contrast is drawn between something very small and the very significant impact it goes on to have. A tiny mustard seed produces a tree which becomes a home for the birds of the air. A tiny piece of leaven transforms a significant amount of flour. In each case, Jesus says that the kingdom of God is like that. Jesus seems to be saying that in the realm of God what is very small can turn out to be very significant. Even our smallest acts of kindness can have an impact for good beyond anything we might imagine. Small initiatives taken in the service of the Lord can create an opening for the Lord to work powerfully. We can be tempted to think that unless some event within the church is big and impressive in the eyes of the world it does not count for much. Yet, the parables in today's gospel suggest that it is the small actions, the tiny initiatives, what goes unnoticed by most people, that can become the bearers of the kingdom of God.