Jesus the Bridegroom loves the Church his Bride

Homily for the Eighth Sunday of Year B

by Fr. Tommy Lane

We know they ran out of wine during the wedding in Cana. Many people may not be aware of the reason why they ran out of wine. Wedding celebrations lasted for a week at that time! No wonder they ran of wine. But there is an even longer wedding, a wedding celebration that lasted for years! That wedding was Jesus being with us on earth, God made man. He describes himself in the Gospel today as the bridegroom (Mark 2:19-20). And his attendants, his groomsmen, were his disciples. No one fasts during a wedding and neither would his disciples. If Jesus is the groom, who is the bride? The Church is the bride. In Christ God married the human race, heaven and earth are united.

What about the love of the groom for the bride, the love of Jesus and love of God for humanity? We see many examples of the love of Jesus in the Gospels. He was well known for mingling with sinners and described as “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34). When dining with one of the Pharisees a woman came in who had a bad name in town and he allowed her to wash his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair (Luke 7:36-50). In Luke 15:2 the Pharisees and scribes complained, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” We are told that Jesus loved the rich young man (Mark 10:21); Martha, Mary and Lazarus (John 11:3,5,36); one of the disciples (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7,20). This love of Jesus is for everyone; in John 3:16 it is clear that this love of Jesus is for all of us, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.” In the letter to the Ephesians we read, “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph 5:2); “the love of Christ surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:18-19); “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” (Eph 5:25)

Jesus could have avoided death if he had wanted to; in Luke 13:31 we read that some of the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Leave this place because Herod means to kill you.” And Jesus did depart from there because he had a long ministry afterwards (we see something similar in John 10:39-40). This was not the only time that Jesus avoided death; after John the Baptist had been arrested Jesus withdrew to Galilee where he would be safe (Mark 1:14; Matt 4:12). When Jesus was in Gethsemane and prayed, “Father let this cup pass me by” he could quite easily have climbed the Mount of Olives, and then Bethany was only a few minutes away, and after another few minutes he would be away safely. But Jesus chose to die for us to show his love for us. As we read in Ephesians, “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph 5:2); “the love of Christ surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:18-19); “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” (Eph 5:25) And what a way to die. He died as a common criminal; crucifixion was the capital punishment of the Romans for criminals. Death on the cross was not caused by heart attack or bleeding or bursting of blood vessels but simply exhaustion of the body and failure in breathing. Because of the weight of the body pulling you down on the cross for every single breath you would have to pull yourself up in order to get air into your lungs. Every breath was a source of extreme pain. In the end death came by suffocation. As we read in Ephesians, “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph 5:2); “the love of Christ surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:18-19); “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” (Eph 5:25)

What about the love of the bride for the groom, the love of the Church for Jesus, our love for Jesus and God? In the first reading, God speaking through the prophet Hosea, spoke of Israel as his wife. Unfortunately Israel, the wife, had forgotten about her husband God. So how is God going to get his wife, Israel, to love him again? God says through Hosea:

I am going to lure her
And lead her out into the wilderness
And speak to her heart.
Then she will respond to me as she did when she was young. (Hos 2:16-17)

What has that got to do with us? We in the Church now take the place of Israel. I think what Hosea said is just as valid for us today. As we think of the love of God for us and how Jesus chose to die for us, we cannot but be aware of how we are like Israel in the Old Testament. We sometimes forget about the love of God for us and go after false gods. We forget sometimes about the love of God for us and commit sin. We forget about the love of God for us sometimes and do not spend enough time in prayer. We forget about the love of God for us and live sometimes as if God does not exist. Sometimes we forget that Jesus suffocated to death on the cross “so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.”

The Church is the bride, Jesus is the groom. The wedding is over because Jesus is in heaven again, but the marriage of God with humanity continues every day. May every day be for us a day of loving our groom, Jesus, in return for his love for us.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered when I was engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

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