When I went through premarital counseling, I had already gotten a year of seminary under my belt. Naturally, I knew everything or at least had been given the resources to figure anything out. When it came to choosing the lessons for the service, I was drawn to Ephesians 5 (“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord…”). Although it had something to do with me being a chauvinist pig, it was also because that was a tough passage even for a confident (i.e., arrogant) seminarian.
How could the biblical model of marital relations still speak to marriage in the 21st century? Looking back, it’s easier now for me to say that it can’t and leave it at that. When I was chewing on that issue back then, I made sense of it by balancing Paul’s instruction for husbands with his instruction for wives. If wives submit as unto Christ and husbands love as Christ loved us, then everything should be peaceful in the house, right? Who cares whether a patriarchal husband makes all the decisions if he’s acting like Jesus?
But I wasn’t really happy with that. And I’m definitely not happy with that. Here’s where I am today…
Just when I thought Jacob and his sister-wives were stuck in the ancient world, the patriarch goes and asks his wives for their input when making a big family decision. In today’s OT reading (Genesis 31:1-24), Jacob hears God tell him to pack up his family and possessions and take them back to the land of his ancestors. But, before doing so, he sits down with Leah and Rachel and asks their opinion. Remarkable.
I think Jacob knew what I now know—something I didn’t know when I was going through premarital counseling. And that is that happiness is a mutual gift. Love is shared—even if it’s only one-way, it requires an other. For Jacob to be happy in his new home—for Jacob even to be willing to consent to God’s word—required the participation of his wives. And, because it was God’s will, they agreed. Or, put a better, clearer way, because they agreed we can say that it was God’s will. Discerning what God wants us to do involves community—especially if that community involves a family.