Updated: Jan 30
When I was in college, I took a required psychology class that dealt with human growth and development. As adults, our past shapes our future; so by better understanding the issues causing people to change and grow, that knowledge can be utilized to help people live up to their full potential.
As a classroom exercise, each student was asked to share some significant moment in their past where growth and development changed one’s life course. One of my classmates told us about one such challenge in her life … a fairly recent epiphany.
She was born in America to Hindu (India) parents. She met a young man who also was born in America to immigrant parents (Pakistani), only he was raised Muslim. She explained such love was strictly forbidden.
Headline reads: “Hindu husband murdered by Muslims for marrying Muslim girl in Kashmir”
Still, they fell in love and talked about marriage. My classmate said her parents would disown her if they knew she wanted to marry a Muslim, and her boyfriend’s parents would likewise reject him for marrying a Hindu woman. To add to this dilemma, the girl’s parents announced to her they had arranged for her to marry a young Hindu man, whom she had never met. This new development meant the girl would seriously disgrace her parents by not fulfilling the bargain her father made with another Indian father. She faced more serious threats if she did that, especially rejecting an arranged Hindu marriage for a Muslim man.
The young woman in my class was in a dilemma of love. Keeping her heart hidden from her parents, she requested a meeting with the man she was arranged to marry. Her parents set up a meeting with her potential fiancée … something that was not commonly done, as it could be regarded as an insult. The girl said she was pleasantly surprised that the man was about the same age, good looking, and of similar mind.
My classmate told the class that she had decided to break up with her Muslim boyfriend and marry someone she had only met once, because she loved her parents and family. She said her parents had married without having ever met, and she was committed to making her new marriage work … expecting love to come through the commitment each would make to the other.
While it may be difficult to see at first, the lessons of today’s readings deal with the attractions and commitments of marriage, which includes having children and raising those children in an environment of faith. A serious commitment to marriage goes well beyond the physical attractions that relatively modern marriages have more commonly been built from.
As my classmate wept at times while she told her story, it should be realized that marriage is not always focused on feelings that make the rest of the world seem to disappear.
The Song of Solomon is considered by scholars to be love poems, with many rather sensual, read as expressions of the physical love between a man and a woman.
The love song read aloud today evokes images of passionate love, which I imagine mirrors the feelings my Hindu classmate felt for her Muslim boyfriend. Such burning emotions seem, initially, like those feelings will last forever, thus thoughts of marriage enter one’s mind after the heart is ignited.
“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” Solomon wrote.
Now, I am not a scholar of Biblical writings, but reading this song of Solomon made me wonder, “How does a love song connect to James writing about the acts of faith and Jesus calling some Pharisees and scribes hypocrites over handwashing rituals?”
In fact, it should make all of us ask, “How do sensual songs of lovemaking find a place in the Holy Bible?” Passionate love poems seem more fitting for the Kama Sutra or as waiting room reading material, before being called in as part of the Masters & Johnson sexual relationships research done in the 1950’s.
Then, it dawned on me.
Solomon was not writing about his feelings of love with one or more of the over 700 wives and concubines he had. As a king, he did not need to woo any women into his arms. With so many lovers, it would make his words seem like he was a Casanova or playboy, pretending every woman was more exciting than the ones past.
Instead, Solomon was writing about the love between a believer – one of faith – and God. Solomon was writing about the most fulfilling relationship any human being could ever have. Solomon, like his father David, loved the LORD with all his heart. In 1 King 3:3, it says, “Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David.”
I choose you as my bride
That love is stated in his song today: “Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills.”
God came to Solomon in a dream. Can you imagine how heart-warming that was? Can you envision the greatness of God coming to you, regardless of the obstacles that you face in your path of life?
“My beloved is like a gazelle or young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at our windows, looking through the lattice.”
The plural pronoun says the two are one, “behind our wall,” “at our windows.” Can you feel God’s presence in your heart, giving you an inner sense of grace (gazelle) and beauty (stag)? Can you see God within the boundaries of your body walls, a body that has become a temple unto God, with His Spirit piercing through the windows of your soul, looking through your skeletal framework longing for your heart?
Did you know a stag is a symbol for Christ, according to Medieval Heraldry? It stomps on snakes (evil). A gazelle represents awareness, agility and speed.
I recommend you take the time to re-read all of the love poems in the Song of Solomon, and see how the words are seducing you to fall in love with God. Solomon wants you to desire God’s proposal and accept a union with Him … to be His bride … regardless of one’s human gender.
If you can see how the words of Solomon’s song are calling you to be God’s lover, hear how Psalm 45 was David’s song wooing us the same:
“My heart is stirring with a noble song, let me recite what I have fashioned for the king.”
We have to feel our hearts pounding with the thought of having God choose to be one with us. We have to see how Christ is our king who we seek to wed.
When you feel the passion within your heart, then see how the Law of Moses becomes our “wedding vows.”
In the alternate Old Testament reading selected for today – Proper 17 of the Ordinary Time this year (Deuteronomy, chapter 4) – we can see how Moses told the Israelites:
“You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it.” “You must observe them diligently,” he said.
How different are those words that portray the seriousness of commitment with God from these words we so easily recognize: “Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony.”
“Will you have this [Son of God] to be your husband; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?”
While I skipped over some parts of a marriage ceremony, as stated in our Prayer Book, I only substituted “Son of God” for “this man.” Marriage IS a Covenant before God, and the greatest union one can experience is that where we join with Christ, all one with God.
From that marriage of one individual with Christ, all in attendance are asked, “Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?”
This means marriage is not only between one and Christ, but one’s family and one’s future members (children) and God. The commitment is made BECAUSE one has been dedicated to God at birth.
I can see why my classmate broke off her relationship with her boyfriend and chose to marry a stranger her parents selected for her. She was dedicated to her religion … not just by words of promise, but by a heartfelt commitment. Her parents prepared her for that epiphany, which changed the course of her human growth and development.
In James’ epistle, we hear him state, “In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”
Those “first fruits of his creatures” are Christians. We have a religion that is different than Judaism, because Christians are married to Jesus Christ … the Son of God.
Now, James is writing a letter that is not about his marriage to Christ, as much as he is writing a letter like one’s grandmother or aunt would write words of advice, encouragement and warnings to a newlywed couple.
Words of wisdom saying, “Marriage is a work in progress. All married couples have peaks and valleys, but stay the course. Remember you vows.”
James is known for stressing the value of doing, more than simply “being.” James says faith is demonstrated in one’s acts, while many are quick to assuage the shoulders of those who only have faith, as if saying, “It is okay. As long as you believe you are married to Christ, then you are.” That is the dilemma of “works versus faith,” of which James is known.
We all have plans, but without actions based on plans only chance can be expected.
James was primarily addressing the Jews, who were married to God, but who had rejected the proposal from Jesus. Christians acted because they were filled with the Holy Spirit, becoming like new babies of Jesus. Jews did nothing of this sort. Instead, they were arrogant, because God chose their ancestors.
Thus, James concluded, “If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.”
Now, the word written in Greek that is translated as “bridle” is “chalinagógeó.” It means, “To lead with a bridle, to curb, to restrain, to sway.” The word “bridle” is used as a noun to describe the restraints placed around a horse’s head, neck and mouth. The bridle is how one tames a horse and reins in its wildness, so that a horse may be broken of its wildness and become a dependable servant to a master.
When we are married to Christ, our heads also need to be controlled. In our vows we accept that condition of servitude … happily.
But like some horses … those who some might call “spirited” … some Christians buck and resist that restraint and control. The Jews, then, are like wild horses … unbridled … thus James’ conclusion: Without a bit across their tongues, they run wild with deceived hearts.
Had my classmate in that psychology course told us how she was going to run wild and free, hooking up with her Muslim boyfriend, knowing that both of them would be rejected from their families and friends, they too would have unbridled tongues, without religion. How they had been raised would then become “worthless.” They would have been thrown to the wolves of the world, with no place to call home. Their hearts would have eventually been found to have deceived them.
This is how Jesus saw the Jews of the Temple, who came over to him just to point out how his band of commoners, those who were Jesus’ disciples, acted like animals by not washing their hands before eating.
Some animals do wash first.
Jesus responded by telling those temple leaders, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.’”
When one is viewing today’s readings through a “marriage-tinted lens,” then what Isaiah prophesied can be heard as a charge of infidelity … of Jews cheating on their husband (God). Isaiah, as was Jesus, was a witness to the marriage vows exchanged between the Israelites and God, but while the Jews who lost Judah and the Jews who came back to Judea all pretended to do “kissy face” with God – honoring God through rituals and covenants doing nothing more than lip service – their hearts lusted for other gods … like power, position, wealth and influence.
Thus, Jesus continued the quote from Isaiah, saying, “In vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.” The Jews, who lost Jerusalem, Judah and all Israel, just like the Jews who rewrote the covenant while in Babylon – they had all broken their vows.
“You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take anything away from it” meant nothing to those infidel brides. The slept with whatever god offered them advantages over others.
In today’s news terms, Jesus would have found out that all the Pharisees and temple scribes had accounts on Ashley Madison’s “discrete affairs” website, only to find it had been hacked by God, catching them red handed.
“You abandon the commitment of God and hold to human tradition,” said Jesus to those who were spewing judgment on the innocent disciples of Jesus, as if their married name gave them the right to pretend to be God.
They had unbridled tongues. They were wild horses, running free on their own.
As far as marriage and infidelity are concerned, the Jews of the Second Temple were divorced from God. They just did not know their relationship with God had ended. They were in denial, while taking advantage of a past relationship, as long as God was not present to stop them … like when Moses and Aaron, David and Solomon, and prophets like Samuel, Elijah and Isaiah had kept their ancestors in their place of subservience, being true agents of God.
The people of Judea and Galilee … the common Jews … they were not being properly prepared to become God’s brides. None of them had ever witnessed true Holy Matrimony before … they had only read the vows made by their ancestors to God, when Moses was the officiant.
Today, we are in the same condition of disregard, as the vast majority of people proclaiming to be Christians have done little more than read the vows the “first fruits of God’s creatures” wrote (the New Testament), who were indeed married to Christ.
It is now time to fall deeply in love with God, with Christ. We must do more than give Christ “lip service,” kissing him on the lips as Judas did, and only on Sunday mornings. When you let the wafer and wine pass your lips today, think of the words of Isaiah, which Jesus quoted to the Pharisees:
“This people honors me with their lips.”
Then ask, where is your heart concerning Christ? Is it far from him? Do you really love Christ with all your heart?
As you drive home after church today, will your heart pound for God and His Son? Will ALL your thoughts be only on Jesus, like they would be if you were infatuated with a new lover?
Will you read the Holy Bible while at home, as passionately as you would read love poems written especially for you? Will you long and your heart ache for the days to pass quickly, so you get the opportunity to attend the soonest Bible Studies class, because you miss hearing, “The voice of my beloved!”
“Look, he comes … like a gazelle … gazing in NOW at the windows.
The eyes are the windows to the soul.
<point to the windows>
“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.”
The proposal awaits your willingness to say, “I’m coming my Lord.”
Your sincerity then awaits your commitment, through marriage, before witnesses.
Your commitment, just like that expressed by my classmate in that psychology class, requires an epiphany. Your own growth and development as a human being should desire a most spiritual relationship and commitment; but you have to decide, “Will I bridle my tongue?” or “Will I deceive my heart?”
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