A recent report from Pew Research divulged that while nine-in-ten Americans believe in a higher power, only a slim majority believe in God as described in the Bible. The report highlighted that most people view God as an impersonal higher power who binds all things together that but has no face, no intimacy as the God in Scripture. Think of the popular image of “the Force” in Star Wars. The force is a kind of deity – holding all of existence together and giving power and life to all things. But it is certainly not a person; you use the force but you cannot love the force.
This vague notion of God eradicates the physical, tangible nature of God that Jesus describes in this Sunday's Gospel reading. Jesus bluntly tells His disciples that when they see Him, they see God the Father. Here, God is not an obscure deity, rather He comes squarely situated to us in the flesh. Not only that, the Bible describes that God wants to intimately unite Himself to us using wedding imagery.
All of salvation history is described as a love story in which God weds Himself to His people. More specifically, Jesus to His Church. As the Catechism states, “The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church.” (CCC 1617)
The nuptial imagery of Christ and His Church seems hidden, but today’s readings give us a sliver of this marriage motif. Jesus tells the disciples He will leave them. The reason He is going to depart is because He is going to His Father’s house to prepare a place for them, so that He can, at some point, return and take them to be with Him. At first blush, these words may seem like a poetic way of Christ saying, “Don’t worry. I’ll be back.” However, when Christ tells His disciples that He goes to “prepare a place” for them, these words take on a new meaning when viewed in ancient Jewish marriage customs.
In Jewish tradition, it was the preeminent duty of the bridegroom to prepare a home for his bride so that when the wedding was finally consummated he could take her from her own family and bring her into his house. In fact, the wedding ceremony was essentially the groom’s introduction of the bride into his house (see Proverbs 24:27). This custom may explain how it was that Joseph and Mary were “betrothed” for some time before they came to dwell together as husband and wife.
In Jesus’ parable about the “Sons of the Bridechamber,” theologians view the enactment of Christ’s wedding ceremony to His followers took place at the cross. What follows after the cross, after the marriage ceremony, is that now Christ must temporarily leave His followers to “prepare a place” for them. Of course, this “place” alludes to the heavenly temple (cf. John 2:16-21) where a person joyfully encounters God in heaven. When placed in the light of wedding imagery, we can become magnetically drawn to God’s marriage proposal and, in turn, go all in on our Catholic faith. While the culture offers us temporary thrills, they pale in comparision to those who accept God's marriage proposal. To be sure, accepting God's invitation is not a walk in the park. As Christ said, "You will be hated for my name sake, but he who endures to the end will be saved" (Matthew 10:22). While God's way ushers in a dying to self in this world, its fruit is fixed on the next world - the heavenly banquet.
Jesus has went to prepare a place for us. When we fixate on that place, these anxieties in our current place on earth become futile.