By Father James Rodriguez
RECENTLY, I READ a newly published book by Brant Pitre, a Scripture scholar and seminary professor. “Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told” (Image, 2014), has a simple premise: God loves us.
This fundamental truth is at the heart of this week, and this Sunday’s readings prepare us to experience what this love is all about. In the book, Pitre looks at the Old and New Testaments, revealing a God Who is not only “Creator” or “Father,” although these are essential to Who He is.
God is something more – He is a bridegroom, loving His bride deeply and intimately. Without going into detail here, it is enough to say that Jesus fulfills the Old Testament prophecies through which God promised over and over to be one with His people. In the incarnation of Jesus this mystery begins, quite literally, to take flesh and finds its fullest expression in the mysteries we contemplate this week.
On the cross, Jesus is truly the bridegroom. Pitre notes that sometimes men joke about their wedding day being their funeral, and some even mourn their so-called ‘loss of freedom’ with wild bachelor parties. The beautiful truth is that a man in love willingly, gladly and – most importantly – freely hands over his life before his bride, who does the same. The two become one, and together they imitate the love of Christ, whose wedding day – Good Friday – truly was His funeral day. That is the kind of God we have.
This bridegroom-God is jealous for us, as we heard a few weeks ago as Jesus chased the money changers out of the Temple. He is also patient with our inconsistent and imperfect love. Sometimes we praise Him and worship by laying down our sins like palm branches. Other times we take them back up and cover ourselves as though they were fig leaves.
Sometimes we chant, “Hosanna!” Other times we chant, “Crucify Him!” We can be tragically unfaithful, and this is precisely why His love had to be so extreme and so final. He gave everything, not holding back an inch, in order to both show us His love and rob us of our excuses.
Letting go of excuses and lies requires great trust. We only lie when we are afraid of what people might think, say or do if they knew the truth, and so to be exposed before God we need an example to follow.
Jesus, the Word of God, speaks through Isaiah: “The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame” (Is. 50:7).
This kind of love is both unafraid and unashamed. He has nothing to hide, and so unties the unnecessary knots created by Adam and Eve’s fearful lie. Those first parents had to leave the garden, but God never left them. Even when they and their descendants suffered, He was there. Sometimes, then as now, He seems absent and we can ask with the author of Psalm 22: “Why have you abandoned me?”
However, it would be a terrible mistake to stop with the question without awaiting an answer. In fact, the question itself implies that God is there to hear and answer it, because He is not a God who abandons His bride.
Our Psalm today ends with a triumphant promise, not from God but from His suffering servant, to “proclaim your name to my brethren” (v. 23).
True discipleship requires this joyful missionary spirit. We have been loved, so we love others by sharing what we have been given, even if it hurts. We imitate Jesus, Who “took the form of a slave” and “humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:7-8). The love of a Christian is like the self-sacrificial love of a bride for her husband, the love of the new Jerusalem of Revelation, redeemed and renewed.
This new creation is there, just under the surface of today’s Gospel. As the wedding day marks the end of two individual lives and the beginning of something new, so too does this day mark an end and a beginning. As we follow the Passion, and the ugliness of so many of its characters, the Lord is serene and focused. Despite the betrayals, lies and violence, He is in control and carries the cross like a man in love, because that is what He is.
The bridegroom of Israel, the bridegroom of the Church, acts out the words that He said only hours ago in that upper room with bread and wine: “This is my body, given up for you.”
On the altar of the cross, God fulfills His marriage vows. He gives up His spirit, and in silence awaits our response.
Readings for Palm Sunday Of the Lord’s Passion:
Procession with palms: Mark 11: 1-10 or John 12: 12-16
Psalm 22: 8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24
Philippians 2: 6-11
Philippians 2: 8-9
Mark 14: 1 – 15:47 or Mark 15: 1-39
Father James Rodriguez is the diocesan vocation director and teaches theology at Cathedral Prep and Seminary, Elmhurst.