7 Pentecost, Year A
7 Pentecost, Year A
Sermon by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Weddings. This is often the season of weddings. Almost everyone enjoys attending and participating in a wedding. The people, the pageantry, the extravagant and fashionable attire, the kibitzing with uncle Sam and aunt Sarah, cousins Suzie and Seth, not to mention several others whom we haven’t seen in years, the music, the dancing, the humour, the scrumptious banquet feast, the actual rite of marriage in church or synagogue—all make weddings milestones in our lives. They are memorable and celebratory.
In today’s psalm, which scholars identify as a “royal psalm,” we are given a description of what seems to be the wedding of a king and a princess. Some believe that this psalm is dated around the time of King Solomon, and that it is an account of his wedding. Whoever’s wedding it was and whenever or wherever it occurred; it has the makings of one gala event.
In verses 10 –12, the “daughter”—likely a princess—is addressed. She is advised by the speaker to listen to the following advice: “forget your people and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him; the people of Tyre will seek your favour with gifts, the richest of the people with all kinds of wealth.”
In ancient times as today, there were “mixed marriages,” this is obviously one of them. One of the requirements of a female foreign bride in those days of a patriarchal society was to play a submissive role in the marriage relationship. In this instance, the “bride-to-be” is advised to forget her people and her father’s house. How does one forget one’s people and a father’s—notice the mother is not mentioned!—house? After all, our culture with its customs, values, traditions, language, and much more reflect who we are. We are who we are; we cannot change the essence of who we are. We all inherit our father’s and our mother’s genes—hence we cannot change that part of who we are. It is also highly questionable whether our cultural socialization process can be substantially forgotten or changed radically or whether it is appropriate to forget or change it. I have spoken with immigrants to Canada on different occasions, and it has been my observation that many of them never lose their sense of belonging in their family of origin and national birthplace. For many of them, it would be well nigh impossible to forget their people, their homeland, and their father and mother’s house.
In verse 11, which seems to be connected to verse 10; the stated rationale for the “bride-to-be” to forget her homeland and her parent’s house is: “the king will desire your beauty.” The king and “bride-to-be” will join together in a social, political, sexual, spiritual union with each other. This leaving one’s parent’s household to join together with a spouse harkens back, of coarse, to Genesis 2:24. This desire of the spouse’s beauty is viewed here as a blessing going beyond—yet including—physical or sexual attraction, to a complete unity of life together as husband and wife.
In verse 11b, the wife-to-be is advised to regard her husband as her “lord.” Is the title “lord” here to be regarded as a reference to the husband’s function as the king or is it a title referring to his function as her husband or does it refer to both? In the case of the husband’s kingship, on an official level, it would be appropriate within that particular cultural milieu for the wife as the king’s “subject” to show respect to her husband by bowing to him. This would be symbolic of the king’s authority over his subjects as head of state. However, if the title refers to the husband’s function, then it is certainly problematic, for it describes a power differential between husband and wife. The wife is not then the husband’s equal. The words “bow to him,” may also carry with them the implication that the wife is to allow her husband’s will and desires to take precedent over hers in all circumstances of life—in its extremity, this reflects the protocol of a patriarchal society at its worst, wherein men’s power, prestige and privileges are possible due to the sufferings and sacrifices of women.
In verses 12 and 13a, the social and political “benefits” of this royal marriage are alluded to. Mention of “the people of Tyre” may suggest that this is the homeland of the “bride-to-be.” The phrase, “will seek your favour with gifts,” may refer to some of the residents of Tyre—perhaps the wife’s family attending the wedding—offering gifts to the newly-weds as a symbolic sign of their loyalty as a vassal of the king. If so, then the consequence expected by the people of Tyre by offering their gifts may have been the protection and preservation of the upper class of Tyre—assuring them that they would remain: “the richest of the people with all kinds of wealth.” Another possibility may be that the newly-weds were expected to provide gifts to the people of Tyre to ensure their privilege and status, and as a seal of a political, social and economic alliance between Tyre—perhaps including Phoenicia--and Israel.
In verses 13b – 15, we are given a description of the princess’ elegant attire and mention is made of her “companions” who accompany her; as they make their way—perhaps with musical fanfare, singing and dancing—in the procession to the king’s palace. As Canadians, many of us have watched, with interest, televised broadcasts of British royal weddings. They too are gala occasions of pomp and circumstance, perhaps modelled, in part, after descriptions of biblical royal weddings like the one in today’s psalm.
In the last two verses of Psalm 45, the focus now shifts to the king who is addressed. The king is promised a hopeful and secure future: he shall be given offspring to ensure the continuation of his royal line, and they shall thrive and prosper “in all the earth.” In verse 17, the king is promised that his name—hence, his reputation—shall be immortalized “in all generations,” and “the peoples will praise you forever and ever.”
As Psalm 45 was studied and read down through the ages, it was and still is read and interpreted by people of faith as a “Messianic psalm.” As such, it may well describe the marriage of the Messiah-King with his faithful people in the heavenly realm. The “bride-to-be” represents God’s faithful people and the king represents the Messiah, and the king’s palace represents God’s eternal realm. The following parable, born out of the Jewish mystical tradition from the Zohar, may be a related parallel to this theme:
A king has a son whom he sends to a village to be educated until he shall have been initiated into the ways of the palace. When the king is informed that his son is now come to maturity, the king…sends the matron his mother to bring him back to the palace, and there the king rejoices with him every day….The village people weep for the departure of the king’s son from among them. But one wise man said to them: Why do you weep? Was this not the king’s son, whose true place is in his father’s palace and not with you? (Gershom Scholem, trans., Zohar, The Book of Splendor, pages 72-73) 1
As a people of faith, may we too place our trust and hope, our future in this vision of union with Jesus our Messiah—who, one day, will welcome us into his palace, his eternal realm. In joy and gladness we celebrate our marriage with the Messiah-King every time we gather for worship around word and sacrament as we do today; which provide us with, as we sing in our Communion liturgy: “a foretaste of the (Messianic banquet) feast to come.”