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Old Testament Readings

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Old Testament Readings


1. Male and female he created them.

A reading from the Book of Genesis 1:26-28, 31a

Then God said:
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.
Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea,
the birds of the air, and the cattle,
and over all the wild animals
and all the creatures that crawl on the ground.”
God created man in his image;
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them, saying:
“Be fertile and multiply;
fill the earth and subdue it.
Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air,
and all the living things that move on the earth.”
God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.
The word of the Lord.

Commentary

The Bible’s first book, Genesis, contains not one, but two episodes of creation. They offer differing details, and each contains unique riches. In this offering from the first chapter, human life is the crowning jewel of all cosmic things, made on the sixth day after the earth, sky, water, plants, and animals. Male and female are created at the same time and bear God’s Triune image (v. 26, “Let us make man…”). Made in the image of the creating God, men and women are to participate with God to bring about more life (vs. 28 “be fertile and multiply”). Yet this gift of giving life is intertwined with the gift of prudent stewardship. In this first creation story, God creates out of chaos by ordering it properly. Spouses are called to do the same. Filling the earth with life comes with the responsibility to subdue it (vs. 28), or discipline, calm, and cultivate it. This applies foremost though not exclusively to children, and then towards all life on earth. Peace in societies today begins with spouses participating in God’s desire of ordered harmony among all living things.

This text is used every year to begin the Easter Vigil. It is an elaborate nighttime feast celebrating powerful change and new spiritual life for those who are initiated into the Church. At a wedding, this reading signals the new realities and spiritual life that flow from marriage. New life, seen and unseen, will abound for married couples who view their relationship as a mirror of God’s ongoing act of creation.

 

2. The two of them become one body.

A reading from the Book of Genesis 2:18-24

The Lord God said: “It is not good for the man to be alone.
I will make a suitable partner for him.”
So the Lord God formed out of the ground
various wild animals and various birds of the air,
and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them;
whatever the man called each of them would be its name.
The man gave names to all the cattle,
all the birds of the air, and all wild animals;
but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man.
So the Lord God cast a deep sleep on the man,
and while he was asleep,
he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.
The Lord God then built up into a woman the rib
that he had taken from the man.
When he brought her to the man, the man said:
“This one, at last, is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
This one shall be called ‘woman,’
for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother
and clings to his wife,
and the two of them become one body.
The word of the Lord.

Commentary

This second version of creation is vastly different from the first. God creates man first, and then the birds, wild animals, and other life forms – the very opposite from the previous account. Yet even with an abundance of natural life surrounding the man, something fundamental is lacking. This passage highlights the importance of human relationships, and the need for a strong society – one that begins with men and women in committed, mutually loving relationships.

As Catholics we do not look to the Bible’s creation story for biological truths. Physicians attest that men and women have equal pairs of ribs. (In an ancient language, one word meant both “rib” and “life.”) From the ‘man’ comes ‘wo-man’. This passage leads one to ponder a deeper, spiritual truth. Between men and women there is an intimate connectedness, radical unity and kinship, as well as sexual attraction. When the two come together, especially in the sacredness of marriage, their connection is so life-giving, that all other relationships are secondary – even the link to parents who initially provided life. This passage is a biblical meditation on the more contemporary phrase that one’s spouse is “my soul mate.”

 

3. In his love for Rebekah, Isaac found solace after the death of his mother.

A reading from the Book of Genesis 24:48-51, 58-67

The servant of Abraham said to Laban:
“I bowed down in worship to the Lord,
blessing the Lord, the God of my master Abraham,
who had led me on the right road
to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son.
If, therefore, you have in mind to show true loyalty to my master,
let me know;
but if not, let me know that, too.
I can then proceed accordingly.”
Laban and his household said in reply:
“This thing comes from the Lord;
we can say nothing to you either for or against it.
Here is Rebekah, ready for you;
take her with you,
that she may become the wife of your master’s son,
as the Lord has said.”
So they called Rebekah and asked her,
“Do you wish to go with this man?”
She answered, “I do.”
At this they allowed their sister Rebekah and her nurse to take leave,
along with Abraham’s servant and his men.
Invoking a blessing on Rebekah, they said:
“Sister, may you grow
into thousands of myriads;
And may your descendants gain possession
of the gates of their enemies!”
Then Rebekah and her maids started out;
they mounted their camels and followed the man.
so the servant took Rebekah and went on his way.
Meanwhile Isaac had gone from Beer-lahai-roi
and was living in the region of the Negeb.
One day toward evening he went out . . . in the field,
and as he looked around, he noticed that camels were approaching.
Rebekah, too, was looking about, and when she saw him,
she alighted from her camel and asked the servant,
“Who is the man out there, walking through the fields toward us?”
“That is my master,” replied the servant.
Then she covered herself with her veil.
The servant recounted to Isaac all the things he had done.
Then Isaac took Rebekah into his tent;
he married her, and thus she became his wife.
In his love for her Isaac found solace
after the death of his mother Sarah.
The word of the Lord.

Commentary

This text is but a piece of a larger story riddled with challenged relationships, unlikely children, and unforeseen circumstances. Key to the story is Abraham’s total faith that God will provide and guide. Abraham had left his homeland. Landing in Canaan at a very old age, his barren wife Sarah remarkably gives birth to their son, Isaac. When Sarah dies, Abraham looks to give Isaac a wife.

This snippet from that story appears to be a pre-arranged marriage, but a second consideration of the text reveals a marriage made by God. Abraham’s main intent is not to pick his son’s wife. Instead, he seeks the fulfillment of a promise made by God to give Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. This reading from Genesis’ 24th chapter begins with verse 48. Previously in the chapter Abraham exhorted his servant Laban to pray to the Lord God, who had blessed him in all things (vs. 1). Prayer helps to verify that this process is done with God. Laban prays to be guided to the right young woman. Rebekah’s consent in the matter (vs. 58) verifies that she is participating in God’s will, not some coercive act. Isaac’s newfound comfort further confirms all this is God’s handiwork. Isaac does not merely accept her. He took her into his tent. He loved her, and they married.

The Catholic Rite of Marriage steers clear of any hint of arranged marriages. Like this passage from Genesis, the bride and groom first declare their own freedom and consent to marry before exchanging vows. Parents are not questioned. The rite does not envision anyone “giving the bride away.” In the eyes of the Church, both bride and groom are free individuals who have discerned their love is from God. For this reason, the Church directs that the entrance begin with the priest at the doors of the church greeting the bride and the groom, showing that the Church shares in their joy.

 

4. May the Lord of heaven prosper you both. May he grant you mercy and peace.

A reading from the Book of Tobit 7:6-14

Raphael and Tobiah entered the house of Raguel and greeted him.
Raguel sprang up and kissed Tobiah, shedding tears of joy.
But when he heard that Tobit had lost his eyesight,
he was grieved and wept aloud.
He said to Tobiah:
“My child, God bless you!
You are the son of a noble and good father.
But what a terrible misfortune
that such a righteous and charitable man
should be afflicted with blindness!”
He continued to weep in the arms of his kinsman Tobiah.
His wife Edna also wept for Tobit;
and even their daughter Sarah began to weep.
Afterward, Raguel slaughtered a ram from the flock
and gave them a cordial reception.
When they had bathed and reclined to eat,
Tobiah said to Raphael, “Brother Azariah,
ask Raguel to let me marry my kinswoman Sarah.”
Raguel overheard the words;
so he said to the boy:
“Eat and drink and be merry tonight,
for no man is more entitled to marry my daughter Sarah
than you, brother.
Besides, not even I have the right to give her to anyone but you,
because you are my closest relative.
But I will explain the situation to you very frankly.
I have given her in marriage to seven men,
all of whom were kinsmen of ours,
and all died on the very night they approached her.
But now, son, eat and drink.
I am sure the Lord will look after you both.”
Tobiah answered, “I will eat or drink nothing
until you set aside what belongs to me.”
Raguel said to him: “I will do it.
She is yours according to the decree of the Book of Moses.
Your marriage to her has been decided in heaven!
Take your kinswoman
from now on you are her love,
and she is your beloved.
She is yours today and ever after.
And tonight, son, may the Lord of heaven prosper you both.
May he grant you mercy and peace.”
Then Raguel called his daughter Sarah, and she came to him.
He took her by the hand and gave her to Tobiah with the words:
“Take her according to the law.
According to the decree written in the Book of Moses she is your wife.
Take her and bring her back safely to your father.
And may the God of heaven grant both of you peace and prosperity.”
He then called her mother and told her to bring a scroll,
So that he might draw up a marriage contract
stating that he gave Sarah to Tobiah as his wife
according to the decree of the Mosaic law.
Her mother brought the scroll,
and he drew up the contract,
to which they affixed their seal.
Afterward they began to eat and drink.
The word of the Lord.

Commentary

There are some fantastically incredible stories in the Scriptures. This one ought to be toward the top. Though fiction, the book of Tobit portrays the ordinary life of an Israelite family. It offers stories of life, death, food, family, and God. A main theme is the nature of human suffering. Some suffering comes from demonic forces. Other suffering can be initiated by God as a corrective measure so the selfish and righteous see God’s justice.

Tobit is blind. Perhaps this is a metaphor for him to trust in the wife that God’s angel (Raphael / Azariah) will choose for his son Tobiah. Sarah suffers from having lost seven husbands after consummating her marriage to each. If past events are any indication, then Sarah’s new husband will be dead. Such does not happen. Like the previous scripture option from Genesis 24, their happy marriage and newfound life is a biblical way of revealing that marriage is a participation in God’s divine plan. The imposed suffering on the two did in fact lead them more closely to God’s will.

This passage does not fit the conventional storyline for marriage most couples imagine. Yet it has a unique inner beauty and inspiration. Look closely. The passage contains heartfelt prayers: “I am sure the Lord will look after you both” (vs. 11); “Your marriage to her has been decided in heaven” (vs. 11); “And may the God of heaven grant both of you peace and prosperity” (vs. 12). The couple overcame major obstacles. Couples in today’s society face great difficulties as well, and many bring their own suffering. Passages from this text appear in the final blessing for marriage. Couples may find this passage helps them to trust in God’s divine providence regardless of hardships they face.

 

5. Allow us to live together to a happy old age.

A reading from the Book of Tobit 8:4b-8

On their wedding night Tobiah arose from bed and said to his wife,
“Sister, get up. Let us pray and beg our Lord
to have mercy on us and to grant us deliverance.”
Sarah got up, and they started to pray
and beg that deliverance might be theirs.
They began with these words:
“Blessed are you, O God of our fathers;
praised be your name forever and ever.
Let the heavens and all your creation
praise you forever.
You made Adam and you gave him his wife Eve
to be his help and support;
and from these two the human race descended.
You said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone;
let us make him a partner like himself.’
Now, Lord, you know that I take this wife of mine
not because of lust,
but for a noble purpose.
Call down your mercy on me and on her,
and allow us to live together to a happy old age.”
They said together, “Amen, amen.”
The word of the Lord.

Commentary

From their marriage bed, Tobiah rises and tells his bride to get up to join him in prayer to God. Given her history – seven previous husbands dying after making love to Sarah – Tobiah’s request is more than understandable. It’s nearly a necessity! What follows is a tender prayer that any married couple would hope to speak. He blesses the God of his ancestors and praises the God of creation who fashioned Adam and Eve. Just as Eve was a perfect complement to Adam, Tobiah sees Sarah as an equally fitting partner. He tells God that he has taken his wife not for sexual pleasure but for true virtue. He begs God for mercy upon them both and that they may reach old age together. Sarah adds her voice to the prayer as they conclude, “Amen.”

This text reveals that marriage is not just to temper sexual desires, but that real spiritual strength is found in the sacrament. It has a noble purpose – which is to help, support, and mutually uphold one another into old age. This reading encourages couples to foster a shared prayer life, and reveals the blessings that flow from it.

 

6. The woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

A reading from the Book of Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31

When one finds a worthy wife,
her value is far beyond pearls.
Her husband, entrusting his heart to her,
has an unfailing prize.
She brings him good, and not evil,
all the days of her life.
She obtains wool and flax
and makes cloth with skillful hands.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her fingers ply the spindle.
She reaches out her hands to the poor,
and extends her arms to the needy.
Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting;
the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her a reward of her labors,
and let her works praise her at the city gates.
The word of the Lord.

Commentary

The book of Proverbs is a collection of mostly two-line sayings from sages who studied God, creation, and human nature. These insights of wisdom tend to focus on covenant and redemption. This passage appears at the end of the book and is unusually longer than the shorter sayings that preceded it.

Many couples will find this passage distasteful as it addresses the wife with only a brief mention of the husband. It emphasizes the importance of a grounding faith in the Lord which will be stronger than fleeting beauty or passing charm. Fearing the Lord means awe, obedience, and right relationship with God as the foundation for living wisely. The good husband trusts his wife because she trusts in the Lord. The passage supports the idea that an important aspect of marriage is for couples to walk with each other on their spiritual journey until they reach the gates of God’s eternal love.

 

7. Stern as death is love.

A reading from the Song of Songs 2:8-10, 14, 16a; 8:6-7a

Hark! my lover–here he comes
springing across the mountains,
leaping across the hills.
My lover is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Here he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattices.
My lover speaks; he says to me,
“Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one, and come!
“O my dove in the clefts of the rock,
in the secret recesses of the cliff,
Let me see you,
let me hear your voice,
for your voice is sweet,
and you are lovely.”
My lover belongs to me and I to him.
He says to me:
“Set me as a seal on your heart,
as a seal on your arm;
For stern as death is love,
relentless as the nether world is devotion;
its flames are a blazing fire.
Deep waters cannot quench love,
nor floods sweep it away.”
The word of the Lord.

Commentary

Readers are often shocked to find this little-known book tucked into the pages of the Old Testament. It is a love poem describing two young lovers discovering the beauty of their created bodies, and their desire to share it in love and mutual fidelity. Parts of the book express erotic love. The gift of sexuality is affirmed and portrayed without apology. There is radical equality with both lovers desiring to share in it with equal intensity. Love is seen as a communion of souls.

This passage seems operatic. It describes a young man appearing at his beloved’s window just before dawn, wooing her into the countryside blossoming with springtime life and promise. The maiden makes a statement that beautifully describes the mutuality of marriage, “My lover belongs to me, and I to him.” He then declares the ferocity of love, for just as stern as death is, love is even more relentless. Love is eternal.

 

8. Like the sun rising in the Lord’s heavens, the beauty of a virtuous wife is the radiance of her home.

A reading from the Book of Sirach 26:1-4, 13-16
Blessed the husband of a good wife,
twice-lengthened are his days;
A worthy wife brings joy to her husband,
peaceful and full is his life.
A good wife is a generous gift
bestowed upon him who fears the Lord;
Be he rich or poor, his heart is content,
and a smile is ever on his face.
A gracious wife delights her husband,
her thoughtfulness puts flesh on his bones;
A gift from the Lord is her governed speech,
and her firm virtue is of surpassing worth.
Choicest of blessings is a modest wife,
priceless her chaste soul.
A holy and decent woman adds grace upon grace;
indeed, no price is worthy of her temperate soul.
Like the sun rising in the Lord’s heavens,
the beauty of a virtuous wife is the radiance of her home.
The word of the Lord.

Commentary

The book of Sirach, is frequently referred to as “Ecclesiasticus,” or “The Book of Wisdom.” It is the wisdom writings of Ben Sira.

Like the passage from Proverbs (OT option #6), this one emphasizes the role of the wife. She can reveal God’s blessing to her husband. He can expect to live twice as long with a good wife, for she brings joy and peace to him. These were traditional blessings, and they are more important than wealth. While it is a compliment to the wife to be compared to the rising of the sun – that which gives life, hope, and promise – the passage has a noticeable tinge of inequality to it. It appears that the woman is to spend her life pleasing her husband and feeding him. At its best, it shows how people can be a blessing from God.

 

9. I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah 31:31-32a, 33-34a

The days are coming, says the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel
and the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers:
the day I took them by the hand
to lead them forth from the land of Egypt.
But this is the covenant which I will make
with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord.
I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts;
I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives
how to know the Lord.
All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord.
The word of the Lord.

Commentary

Most couples will not immediately see the hidden beauty and the strength this passage has in its depth of illuminating the marital covenant. The marriage vows bind the couple into a covenant. This passage describe the ideal vision of what that covenant can look like.

Jeremiah was a prophet who could see and hear things from God that others could not. He is on his prophetic tower evaluating the past and future. In the past, God had made a covenant with the people, promising to be their God if they would be faithful to him in return. The covenant was broken. The people failed in fidelity. In this passage, Jeremiah speaks about a new covenant that will be given by God, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” The staggering difference in this second covenant is the absence of one little word, “if.” By omitting the word “if” God is making this covenant unconditionally. God is pledging complete, unconditional love. God has forgiven them for their infidelity, and this law of loving forgiveness is written on their hearts.

This image of unconditional love as the foundation for a covenant is a mirror for what married couples strive to do and aspire to be for each another. Sacramental marriage reveals to the world this incredible love that God has for us. Husbands and wives enter into this sacrament with the same commitment to love as God has shown his people. Couples with a deep committed faith in God, those who have reconciled from difficult infidelities, and those committed to forgiveness and unconditional love will want to seriously consider this eloquent passage.

 

These commentaries were prepared by Rev. Darren M. Henson, a priest of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. Fr. Henson holds a licentiate in sacred theology from the University of St. Mary of the Lake. He has served as faculty at Loyola University in Chicago and adjunct faculty for Benedictine College, Atchison, KS, teaching liturgy and sacraments.



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