A parable from the Bard
Now let him speak: ‘tis charity to shew.”
I'm quite certain Shakespeare wasn't trying to proclaim the Gospel. But in The Taming of the Shrew, the wonderful BBC production of which Paul and I “rented” for free last week at our local public library, he did just that – well - to me anyway. Paul tells me this play is fairly well hated, at least it’s message is, and I can see why with it’s overt anti-feminism. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. That’s a subject for a different day. You see, I’m not talking about women’s issues here, per se, I’m talking about the Church, the people of God – the Bride of Christ, the Shrew:
And let’s not deny it. Let’s be entirely honest. As any person well acquainted with church (or world) history, and any Christian well acquainted with his or her own heart knows, Christ took a shrew for His bride. And like Petruchio in our play, He was under no illusions. He knew what he was getting into, and undertook His task with wholehearted zeal. He would not be deterred and had the utmost confidence in a successful outcome.
“Why came I hither but to that intent?
Think you a little din can daunt mine ears?
Have I not in my time heard lions roar?
Have in not heard the sea, puft up with winds,
Rage like an angry boar chafed with sweat?
Have I not heard great ordnance in the field,
And heaven’s artillery thunder in the skies?
Loud ‘larums, neighing steeds, and trumpet’s clang
And do you tell me of a woman’s tongue,
That gives not half so great a blow to th’ear
As will a chestnut in a farmer’s fire?"
Katharina was hostile by nature, and when she heard of Petruchio’s interest her ire focused on him. He became her particular enemy even as he’d determined to make her his wife. I was an enemy of God once. He'd heard of my hatred and distrust of Him and yet set out to woo me. He was forty years in the wooing, years of loving care, and severe kindness, hardships designed to leave me helpless with no one but Himself to cry to - all of which I resented - but to which, like Katharina I finally succumbed.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” Romans 5: 6-10
Christ, when He committed himself to his bride paid for her with his life and now lives to see her made lovely. Though she is not really lovely, He covers her in His own beautiful righteousness “ …so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5: 21) You might say that He sees her as she will be, on the glorious day when she will be made perfect. When God sees us dressed, as it were, in the perfect righteousness of Christ, He no longer sees a shrew, but a gracious bride.
As Petruchio says to Katharina after listening to reports, and seeing with his own eyes her wretched nature:
No, not a whit: I find you passing gentle.
‘Twas told me you were rough, and coy, and sullen,
And now I find report a very liar;
For thou art pleasant, gamesome, passing courteous;
But slow in speech, yet sweet as spring-time flowers:
Thou canst not frown, thou canst not look askance,
Nor bite the lip, as angry wenches will;
Nor hast thou pleasure to be cross in talk;
But thou with mildness entertain’s thy wooers,
Why does the world report that Kate doth limp?
O slanderous world! Kate, like the hazel-twig,
Is straight and slender; and as brown in hue
As hazel-nuts, and sweeter than the kernels.
O, let me see thee walk: thou dost not halt.”
“Father, ‘tis thus: - yourself and all the world,
That talkt of her, have talkt amiss of her:
If she be curst, it is for policy,
For she’s not froward,but modest as the dove;
She is not hot, but temperate as the morn;
For patience she will prove a second Grissel,
And Roman Lucrese for her chastity:”
He sees her as she will be, and under his careful nourishing and cherishing she becomes every beautiful thing he has imagined.
“…Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so 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. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” Ephesians 5:23-30
While His bride yet lives in this world, she is not entirely tamed. Some of her shrewishness yet remains. Yet He knows what she will be and He will not relent until that great day when He sees her wholly convinced…and wholly lovely, without spot or blemish. But even here, even now, when she looks at him and his unabashed love for her, she gets glimpses of what she will be and then like Katharina when her husband bids her speak will tell, with a heart overflowing, all who will listen what she’s thus far learned:
Fie, fie! Unknit that threatening unkind brow:
And dart not scornful glances from those eyes,
To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor:
It blots thy beauty, as frosts do bite the meads;
Confounds thy fame, as whirlwinds shake fair buds;
And in no sense is meet or amiable,
A woman moved is like a fountain troubled,
Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty;
And while it is so, none so dry or thirsty
Will deign to sip, or touch one drop of it.
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,
And for they maintenance commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks, and true obedience, -
Too little payment for so great a debt.
Such a duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband;
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel,
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?
I am ashamed that women are so simple
To offer war, where they should kneel for peace;
Or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway, when they are bound to serve, love, and obey.”
“This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:33