Saturday, September 29, 2012

On Jesus Being Married...

I realize I'm a little late to this game, but every now and again there are modern day theological obsessions that need to be addressed here.  The latest going around concerns itself with a fragment that supposedly talks about Jesus being married.

First, let's get a couple of things out of the way...

1) There are numerous references in Scripture to Jesus being a "bridegroom", with each instance of the "bride" being the Church.

2) There is zero evidence in the earliest documents of Christianity that proves or even suggests that Jesus ever had a wife.  That never stops the Usual Suspects from trying to force fit someone like Mary Magdalene into their favorite projected narrative, but if one wishes to be intellectually honest, he would have to admit the evidence is somewhere between zero and zilch.

Quite honestly, I don't think it matters in the way most people think it does.  If Jesus were married, it doesn't change anything theologically or change anything within his mission.  It is fitting that Jesus was not married, just as it was fitting that he died on the cross, that Mary was immaculately conceived, and a whole host of other things surrounding the life of Christ. Usually, the people hyperventilating and squealing over such "finds" like the aforementioned papyrus have two particular lines of thought that they believe will change because Jesus was married...
zOMG, Jesus was married!  Guess those old farts in Rome will have to allow married priests!!!
Um, not quite.  First of all - not all Catholic priests are celibate - just look at the Eastern Churches.  Likewise, the Latin Rite discipline of celibacy did not become mandatory until the year 1079.  A discipline means it can be loosened or tightened depending on the needs of the time - like pre-Mass fasting, meat on Fridays, and yes, even priestly celibacy.  Sorry to disappoint.  Of course, it's not as if facts will matter to people with an agenda anyway...
Jesus had a wife!  Changes are a coming for the roles of women in the ordained ministry!
Again, no dice.  Jesus having a wife doesn't change the fact that he gave the Twelve (all men) the keys to the kingdom.  He didn't give such a role to the most perfect creature ever made - his own mother.  Mary far surpasses every single one of us in dignity by virtue of her sinlessness, but even she was not given the charge to "go make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19). The modern mind sees this as nothing more than a naked power grab, and unfortunately, the only things the modern mind understands are power and consent.  What it does tell me also is that clericalism is alive and well within the theologically liberal and modernist movement.

In other words, the obsession with Jesus being married or not is mostly a modern-day projection of our sexually charged culture.  Of course, it's ironic because as a society, we are consistently downgrading the value of marriage as it is, so I am not sure why the same people who are downgrading marriage insist that Jesus must have had a wife.  And using Gnostic sources to make the case is also an ironic twist that few outside the theological community note, given the Gnostic flesh and marriage-hating tendencies.

On CNN's "Belief Blog" - a guest columnist, Stephen Prothero, wrote that he doesn't care either...
What we do know is that we live in a country besotted with Jesus and in an age obsessed with marriage and sexuality and the body, which is why this tiny papyrus is making such big waves.

As for me, I don’t much care what Jesus thought about marriage, or whether he engaged in it. I think we as a society tend to collapse religion far too readily into bedroom questions, as if Jesus came into the world to tell us with whom we should be having sex, and how.

I’m more interested in what Jesus has to say about wealth and poverty, the rich and the poor. And there is plenty in the available record to read and heed, "if only we have ears to hear."
It's ironic here in a couple of ways, because he completely ignores the fact that Jesus did have a few things to say about marriage - namely in Matthew, chapter 19.  More importantly, the irony is that he engages in the same kinds of projection of which he accuses the "sex-obsessed" people, except on the issue of wealth.  Reducing Christ to a sex-obsessed or a "99 Percenter" taking on the eeeeevil rich is merely differing sides of the same coin of projecting modern sensibilities.  Not surprising, of course, but to use another phrase of the Lord, the projectors need to remove the beam from their own eye.

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