Story book weddings – the ones where everything goes off without a hitch – are perhaps the most fictitious narratives ever designed. I have yet to meet a couple who did not have something go awry in their wedding plans, ceremony, or reception. Nevertheless, we all love the idea of the perfect wedding because we are all romantics at heart. Love should be perfect and neat and tidy, though the travails of planning and executing a wedding are good preparation for the struggles that married life entails.
The prophet Isaiah presents us with a picture of the perfect wedding feast. The food is perfect, the setting is perfect, and there are even no tears to be had at this wedding. The prophet provides this setting to describe the fulfillment of the Messianic age in Israel, a time when oppression will end, fidelity to God will reign, and all the people will treat one another with justice and love. No doubt Isaiah’s audience needed such a message in the midst of the Babylonian captivity when Israel was no longer their homeland and the people had no idea if they would ever return. Such an image provided the Israelites with the hope of eventual return and the fulfillment of all their longings.
Jesus uses the wedding image of Isaiah in describing the kingdom of God. Yet, this wedding scene is not perfect as it was in Isaiah. Someone enters the wedding banquet without the wedding garment – a crasher to the party. The person is escorted out so that the wedding feast can continue as it should. Jesus always referred to the kingdom of God as something we await, but also as something that is present already in our midst. In the life of the Church our sacramental actions are our participation in the kingdom of God here and now, in addition to an expectation of future completion in heaven. How can we, then, understand the actions of the Gospel’s wedding banquet?
In the ancient world marriage was a threefold process: betrothal, wedding ceremony, and the consummation of the marriage. Betrothal was not really akin to our notion of engagement. Betrothal was a legal obligation to marry the other person at a future date already determined by the families. It required legal action to break a betrothal, as we see early in Matthew’s Gospel when Joseph intends to break his betrothal to Mary. Both betrothal and the wedding ceremony were once in a lifetime events; you could only engage in these events once. Without going into the details, the consummation of a marriage can take place more than once in the life of a couple.
I mention this dynamic to highlight how it is we encounter the reign of God here and now in our sacramental life. Baptism can be likened to betrothal to God. We are pledged to God and become part of the family of God irrevocably. In Confirmation we celebrate the wedding day by confirming the pledge of baptism and being sealed in that relationship with God. Finally, in celebrating the Eucharist – the banquet of the Lord Jesus – we consummate our relationship with God in a joyous celebration of union with our beloved Lord. This analogy explains why we receive Baptism and Confirmation only once and that each leaves an indelible mark upon us. It also explains why we can partake of the Eucharist frequently and why it is we ordinarily do not allow those who are not baptized or confirmed to receive the Eucharist. The current western practice of receiving confirmation after Eucharist is an historical aberration that is slowly being corrected. RCIA has restored the proper order of receiving these sacraments.
The life of the Christian, then, can be likened to a marriage relationship. In such a relationship we are in a deep loving relationship with another, a relationship that grows and evolves over time. Love is what shapes our decisions and actions in the relationship, and yet it is God who always initiates the relationship and shapes its course in our lives. We merely respond to that love as we would in our human relationships of love. Hence, Paul in today’s second reading finds himself in every circumstance of life, content to be hungry or satisfied because love has led him to this life of service to others.
As we seek to respond to love with love, we ask God’s help in today’s opening prayer: “Let us pray in quiet for the grace of sincerity. Father in heaven, the hand of your loving kindness powerfully yet gently guides all the moments of our day. Go before us in our pilgrimage of life, anticipate our needs and prevent our falling. Send your Spirit to unite us in faith, that sharing in your service, we may rejoice in your presence. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Jude Huntz is Director of the Human Rights Office for the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph.
Daily Scripture Readings
For complete daily Scripture texts, click here. http://www.nccbuscc.org
Monday, October 10
Psalms 98:1bcde, 2-3ab, 3cd-4
Tuesday, October 11
Psalms 19:2-3, 4-5
Wednesday, October 12
Psalms 62:2-3, 6-7, 9
Thursday, October 13
Psalms 130:1b-2, 3-4, 5-6ab
Friday, October 14
Psalms 32:1b-2, 5, 11
Saturday, October 15
Romans 4:13, 16-18
Psalms 105:6-7, 8-9, 42-43
Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 16
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
Psalms 96:1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10
1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b
The full text of the Scripture readings for this week and next week can be found here: http://www.nccbuscc.org/
Click on the “Readings” tab at the top of the page.