Bride or Corpse?
by Rev. Steven G. Oetjen
Reprinted be permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
Therefore do not be afraid of them. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father's knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.
"I hear the whisperings of many: 'Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him! . . . But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: My persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph." Right off the bat, Jeremiah's words to us in today's first reading have us thinking about persecution. Persecution happens in different degrees, at different times, in different places. Sometimes worldly powers will come on board with Christianity and persecution will cease at that time in that place, but that will never be everywhere, and it will never last forever. We should not imagine that we will at some point create a world in which the Catholic church is not persecuted anymore. Persecution will always exist, until the end of the world.
But in today's Gospel, Our Lord tells us not to fear persecution. "Fear no one, . . . do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul," The reason not to fear is this: "Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known." Or more literally, "Nothing is veiled that will not be unveiled." We are told to look to the end. Eventually, when all is said and done, everything will be made known. We live now in a world where things are veiled; deeper realities are not seen. The disciples of Christ will be persecuted. Sometimes lies and falsehoods will be told to harm them. But in the end, all will be made known. The veils will be lifted, and all will see the reality underneath. So, those who are persecuted for the sake of Christ will be vindicated.
There is an excellent commentator on the Gospel of Matthew named Father Simeon Leiva-Merikakis (formerly, Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis). Before he entered a Trappist monastery, he was a professor of both literature and theology. This background, as well as his remarkable capacity to chew on and digest the word of God, gives him great insight into the Gospel text. One of the things he points out is that the word Jesus uses for veil ("kalumma") was used for two different things in ancient Greek literature. On the one hand, it referred to the head covering worn by a woman, such as a bridal veil. On the other hand, it could be used to refer to the covering that was placed over the face of a corpse. These are two very different things, but the same word is used for both.
Father Simeon's point is that in Christ's teaching here, we are given a choice: fear God or fear men. Depending on which we choose, we will become one of two things, either a bride of Christ or a corpse. "What will be revealed inexorably in the end, then, is in keeping with the double meaning of kalumma here: either the identity of the Bride veiled under the cover of humiliation and persecution in the present era; or the rotting face of the corpse of those who have not embraced Christ a Spouse and Lord - a disfigurement and stench that are presently concealed under the veil of power and success." When the veils are lifted, these realities underneath will be revealed. We will see what things really are. And we, too, will be revealed as what we really are - either the bride of Christ or a lifeless corpse. There is no third option
"What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops." What Christ whispers to his bride, she is to proclaim on the rooftops to the world. Yes, there will be suffering she has to bear on account of his name. But that veil of humility and suffering will one day be lifted to reveal her radiant beauty beneath.
Alternatively, those who scorn such humility and choose worldly power will one day have that veil of apparent success lifted to reveal the face of a corpse.
Keep in mind that Jesus' teaching is not a secret. That is why it is called divine "revelation." God has revealed himself. He has lifted the veil. You can find the Bible or the catechism easily. But the reason for this is that the apostles carried out their mission. What Jesus said to them in the darkness, they did speak in the light; what they heard whispered, they did proclaim on the housetops. They proclaimed it to the end of the earth. And not fearing persecution, they did this unto death. We are called to do the same.