Saturday, September 22, 2012

Was Jesus Married?

That seems to have been the big question on many minds this past week. This, after Karen L. King, a church historian at Harvard Divinity School presented a fourth-century papyrus fragment containing Coptic text in which Jesus uses the words "my wife."  High interest in the public was noted as hope had sprung forth that this would give proof that Jesus was married.  But of course, it does not.  There were many good articles published this past week on the topic, but two caught my eye, both with Jesuit roots (so they must be good!)
The first is an Op-ed piece that ran in the New York Times, penned by Jim Martin, S.J.  cleverly entitled, Mr and Mrs. Jesus Christ?   His answer to the question whether this means Jesus was married is “probably not.”  Although he goes on to say “It wouldn’t upset me if it turned out that Jesus was married. His life, death and, most important, resurrection would still be valid.”  Amen to that!
The second article was written by an assistant professor of theology at Fordham University, Michael Peppard: “Jesus’ wife”: Nothing to fear, something to learn.  Peppard ends his piece with the following statement:
“It is likely that, whatever words completed the sentence about Jesus’ “wife,” the new fragment came from a text that engaged some of the central questions of its day for Christians: Were sex and procreation blessings God wished for everyone? Or was some spiritual value to be sought in renunciation and celibacy? If Jesus spoke in figurative language of weddings, brides, and grooms, what and whom specifically was he talking about? The transmitter of this ancient text was likely trying to understand these legitimate questions, along with how Jesus’ singleness (or not) was to be understood as a model of Christian holiness.

Christians need not fear such timeless questions. We keep learning and striving to understand the issues that generated our past—even when its pieces are puzzling”
What role should celibacy play in priesthood?  If Christ was single, was he saying all priests should be single? Should some clergy be allowed to get married? Why can married Anglican priests convert to Catholicism, and fully function as married priests? Why was it fine for the first 1,139 years to have married clergy, including a handful of popes, but now it is not? And if some priests were allowed to marry, would that address the growing shortage of Catholic priests in the United States?
To me, these seem to be some of the questions that get side stepped, partly because Rome does not want any discussion about it.  Kind of reminds me of the biblical passages where Christ tells his followers not to tell anyone about his works, knowing that they would just talk about them more!   And maybe that was part of his plan.
Peppard is correct - these, and other questions like them are timeless.  Was this piece of papyrus, written about 350 years after Christ died, wresting with the same questions or was it finally committing to writing what was passed down in the oral tradition for centuries? 
Perhaps the past will one day give us insight to the present.  But right now, I am less concerened about what happened 'then'…and much more concerned with what is happening 'now.'
…more to follow….

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