The story comes from first-century Gaul, which became modern-day France. It tells of Christian couples coming to Gaul to spread the news of the Kingdom of God. One of the strange customs these people had was that when they married, the wife would be called by the same name as the husband. They did this because God had made them one flesh, one whole person. For instance, if a woman named Mary married a man named Andrew, usually, in those days, she would be called Mary wife of Andrew. But these couples were changing that to where Mary became known as Andrew and would thus be named Andrew, wife of Andrew. Several of the apostles were listed as being buried in two different places. After the apostle’s death, his wife went on ministering in that same ministry they had together. After examining the bones in some of these places, it was determined that they could not have been the apostle as some were female. Still today, both Matthew and Thomas are each claimed by two different cities as their burial place.
Gaul was under Roman rule at the time. The Romans would simply drop the wife’s name and refer to her as the wife of Andrew. Neither governments nor religions liked the practice. In most of the world at that time, women were not counted as people during a census. They had almost no legal rights. This practice spoke of equality that was different from customs or the law. However, most opposition fell away when the people of Gaul created designations for the couple. These designations come down to us today as Mr. and Mrs. You know the French; they don’t care so much what you do as long as you do it properly.
When my dad was in high school, he had two great loves. His high school sweetheart Nemira and playing the trombone. Nemira, named after her French mother, was listed in her high school annual as the “it girl”; she was the girl all the other girls wanted to be. She was beautiful, popular, intelligent, and, unlike my dad, Charlie, from the right side of the tracks.
It was the 1930’s big band era. Through most of Charlie’s high school years, he was the star soloist in a popular band otherwise composed of adult professional musicians. He began traveling full-time with the band when he graduated high school. Playing primarily in the Southeast United States, he was soon billed as the “Tommy Dorsey of the South” after the most famous trombonist ever.
The band played to sold-out crowds almost every night. In those days, movie stars would travel about the country to promote their latest movie. Charlie was a tall, thin guy dressed in a tuxedo. The movie production company would arrange in advance for the female movie star to come up and ask him to dance just after he did a performance where he was featured. Cameras were waiting to take their photograph. The photos would appear in the society section of the next day’s newspaper, along with information about the new movie.
They went on tour with the smaller eleven-man band, even headlining at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. A stolen ashtray engraved with the hotel’s name sat in his living room as a reminder of the experience.
As their popularity rose, Charlie was gone most of the time with the band and wanted to marry Nemira so that she could travel with him. Her father was against their marriage as musicians in those days had the reputation of being hard-drinking late-night people. He thought that was no life for his daughter. It appeared that Charlie was on his way to stardom in the music world, but Nemira’s dad felt she was heading for a life of heartbreak. As was customary then, she did not want to go against her father’s wishes.
Charlie loved Nemira. He quit his job with the band and became a day laborer at a construction job. His highest education was high school, and he had no skills apart from music. This still didn’t satisfy Nemira’s father, who pledged to cut her off financially if she married Charlie.
Charlie loved Nemira, as it used to be said, “with his soul,” meaning he loved her to the point of changing the direction he wanted for his life. They married, and Charlie, true to his word, never played the trombone publicly again. They stayed together and loved each other until the day my father died.
The scripture says, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” It also says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” in the same context. A woman in the first century was her father’s property in most places until she became her husband’s property, with little choice of who that husband would be. Her life was under constant judgment, often being told how to dress and what parts of her body could be seen. Other women judged her on how good of a wife she was or how well she prepared meals. She didn’t need to be told to submit to her husband; she needed to be told to stop listening to the other voices. She needed only to listen to her heart and the one who loved her to the point of giving his life up for her. I don’t think my mother would have ever thought she lived her life in submission to my father. I think she would have considered herself a woman who did her best to care for the man who loved her. If you had asked my dad if he submitted to my mom, he might have said something like, “Let me talk to my wife about that, and I’ll get back to you.”
Having the common name today has lost a lot of its original meaning. The principles that those first-century Christians were trying to tell us are still valid. Being in a relationship with someone we love who also loves us teaches us a lot about how to be in a relationship with God. We become one with our spouse, just as Jesus is one with the father and invites us to become one with him.
When we end our prayers with “in Jesus’ name,” we are not giving some mystical incantation of magic words. We are stating who we are. Our faith and our hope are wrapped up in the one who loves us, and we love in return.
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