A Letter from the Interim Associate Pastor to Presbytery
Here Comes the Bride...of Jesus?
September 27, 2012
Dear Friends in Christ,
A week ago there were big news headlines for a tiny fragment of writing. An ancient papyrus from Egypt, dating back to the second century, contains text which includes the following passage: "Jesus said to them, 'my wife...'" The words that would have come after are maddeningly cut off.
A Harvard University divinity professor says the fragment is part of a copy of a gospel. Just below the cut-off line is another clause that says, "She will be able to be my disciple."
Thus the speculation, scholarship, and the questions begin. WAS JESUS MARRIED?
You may have heard already the wit and witlessness abroad in the land. If Jesus had a wife, what did her Father-in-law think of her? Did she have to remind her husband that even though he could walk on water, the trash still needed to be carried to the curb for pick-up in the morning? Was she blessed enough not to lose him to football games on Sunday afternoon because he already knew how the Steelers would fare? What would her last name have been?
Joking aside, I find this fascinating to consider. In the prologue to the gospel of John, we hear that the Word became flesh, a being made out of human. The very thought of it too ridiculous -- and always at the center of my faith. He knows the quickening at the crystal air of an autumn day after the swelter of summer. He knows completely the feel of his life force entering the aching loneliness of the bleeding woman. He knows the dread of inexorable soldier’s boots. He knows the pain of tired, of hungry, of thirsty, of alone, of outcast, of refugee, of God-forsaken. He knows what it is to be me. To be you. To be human. God knows. Nothing about us is beyond God's ken. It is flesh-and-blood real. This knowledge is why I find intriguing the possibility that Jesus had a wife. In fact, I can make connections between Jesus' ministry and marriage. He so often turned the established ways of thinking upside down. Picture him being as close to an Other as one is able to be, trying to understand Otherness and to show covenant care for the Other, which is how God cares.
What a model for marriage (and most relationships). Did it influence the words with which he responded to the Pharisees’ questions about divorce (Matthew 19:15-16), echoing Genesis 2:24, “Therefore, a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife and they become one flesh.” I once heard a lecturer declare how stunning this snippet of scripture is, coming from a patriarchal society. Marriage makes the two a new creation rather than a continuation of the father’s household. As I see it, together they are almost mandated to embody a way of being grounded in love that is self-giving and wants the best for the Other.
Lofty sounding. Often hard to translate into real living. Especially my own.
I remember a musician at a church I served who hated when the couple to be married chose the love passage from I Corinthians 13 as the scripture for the service. She thought it reduced love to mere sentimental poetry. I was always secretly glad when couples chose it because it challenged me to come with ways to bring those words into reality.
Love bears all things…even when one has had a tempest-tossed night and wakes up grumpy as a bear. Love believes all things…even that one can work hard to pass a make-up exam in Human Being 101after flinging harsh words and retreating into sulky silence. Love hopes all things…that even in the brokenness of divorce there can be healing and caring for the Other. Love never ends even when the roses wilt and the candy gets stale and the poetry sounds like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. Whether or not Jesus was married probably won’t have much bearing on the church’s consideration of the meaning of the institution. However, it can provide good spiritual exercise to stretch your imagination to picture the relationship between Jesus and his wife living into a new creation.
How do you see this marriage?
Perhaps she comes in from a hot, dusty morning in the marketplace. He waits with basin and towel, removes her sandals and washes her tired feet. Grace embodied. A new creation. A world turned upside down.
The Rev. Carol Divens Roth, Interim Associate Pastor to Presbytery
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