WORD OF GOD

Was Jesus married?

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Genesis 2:18-24
Responsorial Psalm: 128: 1-6
Second Reading: Hebrews 2:9-11
Gospel: Mark 10:2-16

No. He was not.

We went through The DaVinci Code, which had Jesus married to Mary Magdalen and with a family besides. That was a novel, not history. Now we have something different, a papyrus fragment written in Coptic, the language of ancient Egypt. Scholar Karen L. King translates one line “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’”  However, Dr. King makes very clear what the fragment, which dates to the fourth century and is the earliest known statement that Jesus was married, is about. “This fragment and that sentence is not evidence of Jesus’ marital status.” Rather, it tells us of the discussions about the meaning of sexuality and marriage that were going on in the Christian community three centuries after the death of Jesus.

Sexuality and marriage are such a large part of human experience that early Christians had to work out whether and how they fit into the following of Christ. Was it better to marry or to remain celibate? Just 20 years after the death of Jesus, the Christians of the Greek city of Corinth wrote to St. Paul asking his advice. Paul responded, “I wish everyone to be as I am, but each has a particular gift from God” (7.7). He was holding up his celibate life as a model but recognizing that not everyone was called to it. What made the issue more intense was the belief of many Christians that the end of the world would come soon. If life as we know it is to end, what is the purpose of marriage and procreation? Some ascetics, not just among the Christians, abstained from marriage because they believed the body and its functions to be a prison holding back the higher, more excellent part of life, the soul. 1 Timothy 4.1 criticizes those who have turned away from the faith because “they forbid marriage.”

The Letter to the Ephesians, possibly 30 years later than Paul’s Letter to Corinth, presents a very different view of marriage when it speaks of the love of husband and wife as a reflection of the love of Christ for His Church.

Jesus in the Gospel goes back to the teaching in the book of Genesis, a tradition probably a thousand years earlier than His time, to reaffirm what marriage is. “A man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.” “Clings to” suggests a kind of dependency to us and seems a peculiar word to use. In Hebrew it carries a meaning that can include being a part of one’s very being. Jesus adds, “What God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

It’s very clear what Catholic belief about marriage is today. A woman and a man come together to form a new reality, their permanent life together. The very intimate way in which they express their love for each other opens to the procreation of new life. Opposition to gay marriage, while respecting the dignity and rights of gay persons, and to divorce and to payment for contraception comes from these principles.

However, it’s not enough to be against. As individuals and as Church, it must be much clearer what we are for.

Christians should present examples of loving marriages between man and woman.

Christian couples should live together in full physical and spiritual intimacy only when they have made a permanent commitment to each other. “Cohabitation” is a sad example of our culture’s fear of making a commitment.

Christian marriage is lasting. Married couples have to make difficult adjustments and have patience in their life together. Certainly, this is an imperfect world and some marriages will just never work. The Church has to show compassion for innocent parties in such situations.

The number of marriages solemnized in Catholic churches has dropped drastically. By word and example, couples thinking of marriage have to be guided to understand the deep spiritual impact of their life together. How they live with one another and how they treat the extended families they join and form can be a striking witness to the love of Christ for us.

Jesus wasn’t married. Arguing about that is a distraction. Our main concern should be how to help make marriage, which is the life choice of the vast majority of people, to be the committed, loving and responsible witness that can change our society.

THIS WEEK'S READINGS

Mon., Oct. 8 — Reading I: Gal 1:6-12; Responsorial: Ps 111:1b-2, 7-8, 9 and 10c; Gospel: Lk 10:25-37
Tues., Oct. 9 — Reading I: Gal 1:13-24; Responsorial: Ps 139:1b-3, 13-14ab, 14c-15; Gospel: Lk 10:38-42
Wed., Oct. 10 — Reading I: Gal 2:1-2, 7-14; Responsorial: Ps 117:1bc, 2; Gospel: Lk 11:1-4
Thurs., Oct. 11 — Reading I: Gal 3:1-5; Responsorial: Lk 1:69-70, 71-72, 73-75; Gospel: Lk 11:5-13
Fri., Oct. 12 — Reading I: Gal 3:7-14; Responsorial: Ps 111:1b-2, 3-4, 5-6; Gospel: Lk 11:15-26
Sat., Oct. 13 — Reading I: Gal 3:22-29; Responsorial: Ps 105:2-3, 4-5, 6-7; Gospel: Lk 11:27-28