There were lots of things about Jesus that were rather ordinary. He had earned a living through the sweat of his brow, like everyone else. He’d become a rabbi and gathered a group of disciples around him, like John the Baptist and the Pharisees.
So why shouldn’t people expect the same from his followers as from these others: “Why do John’s disciples and those of the Pharisees fast while yours do not?” they ask in this Sunday’s gospel (Mk 2:18-22)?
But Jesus hadn’t come to add a few refinements to Israel’s religious culture, to patch up the system. He’d come, rather, “to make all things new” (Rev 21:5). God had been courting the human race since the time of Abraham. Jesus was not just another messenger bringing flowers or chocolates. He himself was the bridegroom who had come in person to consummate the marriage.
There is certainly some continuity between courtship and marriage, but anyone who has ever done it can vouch for this–that publicly pledging yourself to another forever is a radical step that begins something quite new. To establish such a new committed relationship, or in the words of St. Paul, a New Covenant (2 Cor 3:6), is exactly why Jesus had come–to espouse us to himself forever (Hos 2:21-22).
The wedding feast of Cana (John 2) is a story of Jesus meeting the need of a party in distress. But it is more than that. It shows us that Jesus is the true bridegroom who comes to change the insipid water of the Old law into the rich wine of the New.
The Old Law was good, mind you. It taught us how God wanted us to live. The problem was that it failed to provide the power needed to do it. It was a law of rules and regulations, chiseled in stone. The new Law was to be chiseled into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who would take up residence there, empowering us not only to do God’s will, but actually to be like God. With the power of God dwelling within us, we would no longer just know about God as if through textbooks. Jesus had come so we could actually know the Lord intimately, through experience. The prophecy of Hosea was thereby to be fulfilled.
But weddings are costly, as any father of the bride can tell you. In the old days, there was the dowry. Today there’s the gown, the rings, and the reception.
So it should come as no surprise that the marriage of heaven and earth would not come without cost. To take Eve as his bride, Adam had to suffer the opening of his side and the loss of his rib. To take the Church as his bride, Jesus suffered not only the opening of his side, but the loss of his life.
Notice, though, that the blood and water flowing from that pierced side represents two precious gifts. Remember what Jesus said to those concerned that his disciples did not fast: “how can the guests at a wedding fast as long as the groom is till among them?” He was, of course among them until the Ascension when he was finally caught up to heaven. But through the water of baptism and the Eucharistic cup of Christ’s blood he is with us still, touching us and nourishing us in an intimate, tangible way. And so, we must feast. But as we remember his sorrowful passion, and contemplate how our sins were responsible for it, we also must fast.
The great season that we begin this week includes both feasting and fasting. Really, to get the most out of Lent, we need to do both–fast from the treats and amusements that often distract us, and feast at the tables of the Word and Eucharist, where we are reminded of the bridegroom’s love and filled with His Spirit.
This was originally published in the February 26, 2006 edition of Our Sunday Visitor as a reflection upon the readings for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, liturgical cycle B (Hos 2:16-22 ; Ps 103, II Cor 3:1-6; Mk 2:18-22). It is reproduced here with the permission of the author.