Sunday, October 07, 2012

Jesus' wife

“Jesus said to them, ‘My wife . . .’ [and that’s where the page is torn].” So reads one line of a business card sized scrap of papyrus unveiled on September 18th at a conference in Rome by Harvard Professor Karen King. She claims this is new evidence that some early Christians may have believed Jesus had a wife, whom King has speculated was probably Mary Magdalene.

(By the way, if that sounds familiar, it was a central plot point in Dan Brown’s novel, and then movie, The Davinci Code in which a massive cover-up has concealed a royal bloodline of Jesus through his child with Mary Magdalene. This is not really a new idea. It is common for European secret societies to invent a grandiose heritage for themselves.)

Within hours, news agencies around the world advertised the announcement with headlines like “Ancient Papyrus Could Be Evidence that Jesus Had a Wife.” This week, several experts in Coptic (the language on the papyrus) insisted that the scrap of papyrus in question was a forgery. And there was a whole new set of headlines.

What has not appeared in the press (at least not yet) is the startling “new” evidence revealed by an Anglican vicar to a shocked rural Texas congregation which proves not just that some early Christian’s believed Jesus had a wife, but that in fact Jesus was married.

Let's look at Luke's gospel, chapter 5. This passage came up in the Daily Office readings this past Wednesday. The situations here is that some complainers came up to Jesus and asked why his disciples were eating and drinking in all festive delight while at the same time John the Baptist’s disciples and Pharisees were fasting according to pious Jewish custom.

Listen to what Jesus says to them in verses 34-35: “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.”

Did you catch what Jesus is saying here? His disciples are wedding guests—at his wedding! He’s the groom! And in fact, I’ll give you another shocking detail. The New Testament actually gives us the name of the bride, and many old churches actually house pictures of her.

If you walk into the large Abbey Church of St. George in Regensburg, Germany, you will find the whole interior covered in beautiful frescoes. And if you go to the center of the church and look up into the dome, you will see a huge painting of a crowned woman holding a processional cross and seated on a throne. Her name, the name of Jesus’ wife, is Ekklesia (a Greek name that means “assembly” or “church”).

In our first reading today from Genesis (2:18-24), we read about how God invented marriage. But God didn’t just invent marriage, God is married. In fact, the human institution is a shadow of a heavenly reality as St. Paul describes it--a sacred mystery.

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, God is betrothed to his people. Through the Prophet Isaiah, God told the people of Jerusalem, “As a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God marry you” (Isaiah 62:5).

That’s why the Old Testament prophets call idolaters adulterers. That’s why God is jealous of the relationship he has with his people. That’s why the Song of Songs overflows with vivid erotic poetry (don’t tell the kids). That’s why Hebrews 13:4 says “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept undefiled, for God will judge the adulterer and fornicator.” That’s why God cares about chastity.

That’s why Jesus tells us in the gospel today (Mark 10:2-9) that divorce is not an option. That’s why St Paul describes Jesus as our bridegroom and his Church as his bride. That’s why in the book of Revelation, the joy of heaven is compared with the joy of a great wedding banquet.

That’s why the intimacy of marriage is the best comparison we have to intimacy with God, as we find in the writings of many saints and mystics. That’s why we cannot reinvent or redefine marriage. It’s not ours to do with as we please. God created man and woman for each other in the beginning.

In Genesis we read that “the two shall become one flesh.” That’s why Jesus gives us his flesh to eat and blood to drink at the altar. Genesis explains that in marriage, a man leaves his family and clings to his wife so that "the two shall become one flesh.” Marriage is not created so much by vows or promises or covenants or rings or even love. Marriage is created by the union of the body. “The two shall become one flesh.” To be our husband, to make us his bride, Jesus gave us his body.

Why did he consider the cross to be a noble sacrifice? Why does God care so much about human marriage? It is because he is entirely, deliberately, eternally, passionately, and hopelessly in love with you. His is a love that overcomes fear, a love that embraces the good of another, a love that involves suffering, a love that doesn’t count the cost, a love totally naked before another, a love that is the total gift of self.

To make us his bride, Christ gave us his Body--his flesh to mingle with ours, his blood to mingle with ours. "And the two shall become one flesh." All of baptized believers are married to Christ. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one try to tear apart.

St. John wrote in his Revelation (19:7-9), “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready . . . Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A helpful and passionate statement of fact. thank you very much :-)

That's why I love Jesus :-) He loves me.