Today’s short Gospel is a quick Q & A between the disciples of John and Jesus – one question, with a two-sentence answer. And yet, the answer gives us much to ponder.
The disciples of John want to know why Jesus’ followers do not follow the typical Jewish cycle of fasting. Jesus gives a somewhat cryptic answer: “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”
The questioners must have been wondering what this meant.
First, by the “bridegroom,” Jesus is clearly referring to himself. For the listeners, this would have brought to mind the prophetic words of the Old Testament, in which the relationship between the Chosen People and God is often referred to as a betrothal. It is a way of revealing the kind of love that God has for His people: personal, passionate, faithful, and fruitful love, like a young fiancé for his beautiful bride. God’s love for us is deep and intense and steadfast!
But a “bridegroom” is a step beyond a “betrothed.” Jesus is expressing that the betrothal is ending and that – in him – the marriage is now imminent! God has come in Christ, and Jesus IS the bridegroom, come to wed his spouse, the Chosen People, the Church, by saving her from sin. This is why we refer to the Church as the “Bride of Christ.”
In ancient Israel, the guests – family and friends – spent the week-long wedding celebration sharing the joy of the new couple. Here we see Jesus declare himself the bridegroom, and his disciples are the “wedding guests,” invited to share his joy as he takes the Church as his bride. He wants all of his disciples throughout time (even you and me) to do the same! He longs for each of us to remain near him so that the overflowing joy of his Heart can flow into our lives as well until we are fully one with him in the Heavenly Kingdom.
One more thing: Notice Jesus does not say that the bridegroom will leave; he says that the bridegroom will be taken away. He is forcibly and violently removed, but he does not want to leave us alone! Before “the bridegroom is taken away,” he reveals a way he can remain with us always: at the Last Supper, he institutes the Eucharist.
Until the total fulfillment of the Kingdom is revealed, while we “wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior,” we fast and pray and grow in love in order to be more fully conformed to his image, just as his disciples did.
This Lent, let’s open ourselves fully to all that the Church suggests – praying, fasting, giving – so that we are of one heart and mind as we focus our attention on all that Christ, the Bridegroom, has given for us, his bride.
Kathryn Mulderink, MA, is married to Robert, Station Manager for Holy Family Radio. Together they have seven children (including newly ordained Father Rob and seminarian Luke ;-), and two grandchildren. She is a Secular Discalced Carmelite and has published five books and many articles. Over the last 25 years, she has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and voice talent for Catholic Radio, by publishing and speaking, and by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Catechesis, various parishes, and other ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Her website is https://www.kathryntherese.com/.