One of the things that has helped my understanding of the message of Jesus is knowledge of the culture in which He lived. Jesus taught through stories and He used everyday scenarios that the people of the time would understand. He used fishing, farming, and even sweeping to get his message across. One of the most important images He used was a wedding.
Weddings in first century Palestine were very different from our modern-day weddings. First there was the betrothal. This was usually brokered by the parents. Most marriages of that time were arranged. Once the arrangements were settled there was a short, legally binding, ceremony. The couple was joined, but they did not live together or sleep together. This was the state that Mary was in when the angel Gabriel appeared to her. She was betrothed to Joseph, but they were not actually married yet.
After the betrothal, the man would go back to his father’s house and add-on room for him and his wife to be. While he was working the bride was to wait for him to finish. She was to be constantly ready, because she didn’t know when he would be finished and come for her. What’s more, the man didn’t know when he would come for her. Even after he had finished the construction he had to wait on his father to give permission for him to go get his new wife.
Once the father gave his permission the bridegroom would go to his bride’s house. The wedding party would follow with him. Again, the bride had no idea when this was going to happen, but was expected to be ready for it when it came. When the bridegroom arrived the wedding would begin. This could last days. The ceremony itself was short, it was the feast that was important. It was to be thrown by the father of the bride, and it was important that he put on a good party. If they ran out of food or wine, he would lose face. This is why Mary was so concerned at the wedding at Canna when she asked Jesus to help when they ran out of wine.
During all this the bride and groom would go and consummate the marriage. The best man would wait at the door for the bridegroom to come out. When the best man saw him coming he would shout to the wedding party so they could celebrate his arrival. This is what John the Baptist calls himself.
When I first learned all this it gave me a better framework to understand some of Jesus’s teachings. Jesus is the bridegroom, we are the bride. (This is why spiritual writers traditionally describe the soul as feminine.) After Jesus ascended to Heaven we are supposed to wait and be ready. He went to get things ready for us in His father’s house. He reminds us that His father’s house has many rooms for us. But remember that Jesus, as the bridegroom, doesn’t know when He will be coming back for us. He has to wait for His father to give His permission.
The Bible concludes in the Book of Revelations with the wedding feast of the Lamb. This is when Jesus’s promise is finally fulfilled and He returns for His bride and begins the great wedding banquet that will never end.