Wednesday, January 20, 2016

God's Love Affair

God is love.

Throughout history, God has tried to show that He is not just some distant being who lived beyond the clouds but a personal God, a Heavenly Father, who knows us intimately and loves us affectionately.

This love affair of God with the world began with the people of Israel. He chose them among all the nations on earth to be a people all His own. He freed them from slavery in Egypt to show them His power. He gave them His law to show them His wisdom. And, throughout their history, He provided for them. God’s dream was that, through the people of Israel, the whole world would realize that He is a God of love and would come to love Him in return.

To show how deep His passion for us really is, God chose to speak of it in terms of a marriage. There is no higher human expression of love than the faithful commitment of a man and a woman in matrimony. Therefore, God uses the image of marriage to describe His relationship with the people of Israel.

We hear this in today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah. Israel was undergoing a severe trial. The nation had been devastated by invasions and exile. As is so often the case when disaster strikes, they felt abandoned by God. However, through Isaiah, God communicates to His people that He has not left them and that His love for them is stronger than ever. He promises to save them saying, “As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in His bride so shall your God rejoice in you.”

This love affair does not end with the people of Israel. Rather it finds its highest expression in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Son of God who is sent to the world to save us. As Saint John tells us in one of the Bible’s most memorable verses, “God so loved the world that He sent His Son not to condemn the world but to save it.” Jesus came to consummate God’s marriage to His people. What is promised in the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New Testament through the Son of God.

That is why Jesus’ first miracle takes place at a wedding. The miracle at Cana not only reveals His power over nature but echoes God’s desire to enter into a marriage covenant with all His people.

It is also no mistake that Mary is there as well. The whole story takes us back to the first wedding, that of Adam and Eve. Jesus is the new Adam and Mary, the new Eve. Whereas Eve tempts Adam to sin, Mary encourages Jesus to perform a miracle. Whereas the first Eve invited Adam to disobey God, Mary invites the waiters - and us - to obey Jesus telling them, “Do whatever He tells you.” Whereas the first human marriage brought forth sin and suffering into the world, this new marriage of God with His people would bring salvation and healing.

This also explains why Jesus calls Mary, “Woman”. It sounds disrespectful and can make us wonder why Jesus would have spoken so harshly to His Blessed Mother. However, when we understand the connection with marriage, it all makes sense. The first time the word, “woman” appears in the Bible is in the book of Genesis. After Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden of Eden, the Bible tells us that Adam called his wife, “woman”, because she would be the mother of all the living. Therefore Jesus refers to Mary as “woman” because she is the new Eve, the mother of all those who will be saved by Him, the new Adam.

The word, “woman”, also helps us to understand how God would bring about the marriage of God with His people. There is only one other time in Saint John’s gospel that Jesus calls Mary “woman.” It is at the cross when He gives His mother into John’s care saying, “Woman, behold your son.” Again we are taken back to the garden of Eden. Our first sin took place at a tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now our redemption takes place at another tree, the cross, where Jesus, the new Adam,  is obedient unto death.

On the cross, Jesus consummates the marriage between God and His people. In fact, His last words, “It is finished” are translated in Latin as “Consummatum est” or, “It is consummated.” God show His love for us by sending His only Son to die for our sins. As Jesus will tell His disciples, “Greater love has no man than to give his life for his friends.” If we want to know how much we are loved by God, there is no greater sign than the cross. If we want to know what love means - real, self-sacrificing love - there is no better school than the cross.

What happens after Jesus dies? A Roman soldier takes a spear and thrusts it into His side. Blood and water flow out from the wound. The water represents the waters of baptism and the blood, the blood of the new covenant in the Eucharist. We see here an echo of the miracle of Cana where water was turned to wine. But we also hear an echo of creation. We remember that God took a rib from Adam’s side to create Eve. Well, just as Adam’s bride was created from his side, so God’s new bride, the Church, would be created from Jesus’ pierced side, particularly through the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist.

There are many beautiful images for the Church. Saint Paul calls us the Body of Christ each of us serving as His members. Saint Peter refers to the Church as the temple of Christ built up by living stones. But the most Biblical of images for the Church and the one which is probably closest to the heart of God is the Church as the Bride of Christ. Just as a man is faithful to his wife, so our God is faithful to us. Just as the union between a man and woman is permanent, so God’s love for us can never change. And just as a man and woman become one flesh bringing children into the world, so we become one flesh with Jesus through the sacrament of His Body and Blood which brings new life to all of creation.

No comments: