Summary: Christ condemned the pharisees because they separated; his purpose is unity, as in marriage; thus he forbade divorce, and the Church interprets that in mercy and reconciliation.

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Eleventh Sunday in Course

June 11, 2010

Liturgy & Sacrament Series

Somewhere between the seventh and eleventh grade, most students learn that there is a difference between the denotation and connotation of a word. The word “statesman” has a dictionary definition almost identical to that of the word “politician.” But, I think, calling someone a politician has a connotation that is, at least these days, pretty low. Likewise, you can call someone “aggressive,” but calling him “pushy,” which denotes the same thing, is considered an insult.

Before the Gospel age, the Hebrew word peroushim was a title of honor, given to Jews who studied the Law of Moses, interpreted it, and lived by its letter. Saul, our St. Paul, grew up as a peroushim. It means the men who were separated from the unwashed masses by their zeal for God’s Law. But in the mouth of Jesus, it became an insult, which we transliterate “pharisee.” To call someone a pharisee today is to accuse him of being a hypocrite, one who pretends to be holy but who, as Jesus puts it, is a whitewashed tomb, all pretty on the outside and corrupt within. That’s certainly the way the Pharisee in today’s Gospel comes out. Even when Simon admits that Jesus is correct, he adds the sneering words, I suppose.

Jesus, the Son of God, did not take on human flesh to separate us, or to create two or three classes of Catholics. His purpose, as the Liturgy puts it, is to bring together the scattered people of God. We effect that here as the priest, acting in the person of Christ the head, calls on the Holy Spirit to make the bread and wine into the Living Bread and the Cup of Blessing, the very glorified Christ present under forms of bread and wine. And as we come up to take communion, we become more and more united to Christ, and united to each other. That communion between Christ and the Church is so profoundly real that St. Paul and St. John refer to this Mass as the wedding feast of the Lamb, a re-presentation of the communion festival of heaven. Christ is the Bridegroom; we, the Church, are His Bride.

This is, in fact, the last portrait painted by the Scriptures of the relationship between the human and the divine–right in the last chapter of Revelations–just as it is in the first chapter of Genesis. The Catechism teaches that “Sacred Scripture begins with the creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God and concludes with a vision of ‘the wedding feast of the Lamb.’” (1602) “God Himself is the author of marriage. . .The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as [we] came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution, despite the many variations it may have undergone. . .these differences should not cause us to forget its common and permanent characteristics. Although the dignity of this institution is not transparent everywhere with the same clarity, some sense of the greatness of the matrimonial union exists in all cultures.” (1603)

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