Jesus, the Bridegroom in our midst
March 2, 2003

Al Cariño
8th Sunday in Ordinary Times
Reproduced with Permission

In the Gospel reading (Mk. 2:18-22), Mark begins with some people asking Jesus, "Why do the disciples of John and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" The early Christian community then consisted of both Jews and Gentiles. The Christian Jews fasted twice a week, while the Gentile Christians did not. Should the Gentile Christians follow this Jewish practice? With the question raised by some people, Mark wants to resolve a pestering problem that beset the early Christian community as well as make it the spring board for Jesus to reveal His relationship with the community.

In response, Jesus said, "Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast." In this brief answer, Jesus said a mouthful. He made a rapid transition from the question of fasting, to wedding guests, and finally to the revelation of Himself as the Bridegroom - a messianic image which was familiar to the Jews.

The tradition of God as Israel's Bridegroom had its beginning with the Prophet Hosea whose prophetic message was born out of his painful experience of married life: his wife Gomer was not only unfaithful to him but even engaged in prostitution (Hos. 16;21-22). However, because of his love for her, Hosea could not drive her out of his house. The same was true of God who made Israel His bride when He said, "I will espouse you to me forever; I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the Lord."

The adulterous Gomer symbolized unfaithful Israel while the ever faithful Hosea symbolized God. Just as Hosea could not give up his wife her infidelity notwithstanding, neither could God renounce His bride Israel. True, God chastised her for her many infidelities but it was the chastisement of a jealous lover who longed to bring her back to the joy of their first love.

It is in this context that Jesus now presented Himself as Bridegroom who came to reclaim God's people as His bride. Thus while He was among them, they, the wedding guests, should not fast. However the day will come when He, the Bridegroom, would be "taken away" - a reference to His passion, death, resurrection and return to His Father. But He would come again, this time, to claim those who had remained faithful to Him. In other words, though the wedding feast has begun, it was not yet complete. Its completion would only come after the return of the Groom. Meanwhile, they were to fast but here the term has now been expanded to mean penance.

During this intermediate stage between Jesus' first revelation as Groom and His final return as Judge - the stage where we are now - penance is our share in Jesus' passion and death on His way to His resurrection. And if we remain faithful to Him, then we - individually and as Church - will enjoy the heavenly wedding feast prepared for those of us who have remained faithful to the Groom.

The wealth of revelation that Jesus has brought up in answering a simple question and the wondrous implications it has for each one us!

And it is precisely for this reason that I am reminded of an ancient Indian tale about a mouse which was in constant distress because of its fear of the cat. A magician took pity on it and turned it into a cat. But then it became afraid of the dog. So the magician turned it into a dog. Then it began to fear the panther. So the magician turned it into a panther. Whereupon it was full of fear of the hunter. At this point the magician gave up. He turned it into a mouse again saying: "Nothing I do for you is going to be any help because you have the heart of a mouse."

Here was Jesus trying to win the people back as His bride and with it liberation, and there they were still clinging to the laws of Judaism which had enslaved them. They were like the mouse who was successively turned into cat, a dog, a panther and then back into a mouse because it could not leave behind its heart as a mouse.

No. With the coming of Jesus, Judaism has come to an end. And Jesus made this crystal clear when after talking about Himself as Bridegroom, He added, "No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins."

Christianity is thus not a new piece added to the old wineskin of Judaism. Rather, Christianity is a new wine in a new wineskin and its new and vivifying force - the love of the Groom - transforms the abiding teachings of Judaism.

In this new dispensation, we are called to be the bride of Jesus. In response, let us leave behind whatever leads us to infidelity - sin and everything associated with it.