Wednesday, October 3, 2012


So… Apparently, Jesus had a wife. Or may’ve had a wife. Or some Christians once thought it was possible. Or something.

I refer, of course, to a news story that broke recently. It seems a Harvard Divinity School professor, a few years back, came upon an allegedly ancient fragment of papyrus. Written in 4th-century Egyptian (Coptic), it contained the phrase, “Jesus said unto them, ‘My wife...’” Since then, she’s subjected the document to archeological testing, written a journal article for peer review, and last month presented her work to an academic conference. As researchers do.

Recap: previously unknown words penned no earlier than three hundred years after Jesus’ death show Jesus muttering “my wife”, though the papyrus ends before further illumination can arise. Intriguing as a potential, albeit limited, window into 4th century Coptic Christianity and its diverse ideas? Sure. Useful evidence for constructing an historically rigorous picture of Mr. (and Mrs.?) Christ’s home-life? Not so much.

Therefore naturally, for a few days after the aforementioned conference, worldwide news organizations went ballistic! “Jesus was married?! OMJesus! God the Father was an in-law?!” I suspect the coverage would’ve been less intense if The Da Vinci Code hadn’t made such a splash. But it did. So now news orgs know that possible suggestions that Jesus may have had (sex) a family produce heavy traffic. Hence it is that a boringly detailed academic non-event becomes global breaking news. So much so, local suburban pastors get sucked in enough to comment.

Honestly, I doubt Jesus was married. He seemed too…peripatetic. You know, walking here, walking there, never staying anywhere all that long. Not terribly effective for nurturing an intimate relationship, right? But maybe he was. If so, good for him. It wouldn’t matter to my faith, I think. Although some Christians consider the suggestion itself evil, blasphemous, dirty.

And that has to do with sex. At least, that’s my guess. After all, we Christians have long had an awkward relationship with sexuality of all kinds. As I understand it, long ago some theologians speculatively separated the human self into Spirit v Flesh (mis-taking cues from Paul’s writings). Spirit they called good, obviously. Flesh, therefore, was bad. And though Flesh could’ve referenced many diverse things, what really got these folks worked up was carnal activity.

Which makes a kind of sense, right? Sexuality is powerful, and sometimes dangerous, and when abused, sometimes destructive to families. And family is about the most important force in human civilization. But it’s a long jump to go from those admissions to, “Only sex for the purpose of procreation is admissible, and then it’s simply tolerated.” Yet for centuries, that was more or less official Western Christian policy (strangely overlooking that healthy sexuality is highly beneficial to families).

Anyway, fast forward to now, and we’re still dealing with baggage from this centuries-long skepticism or derision of sexuality. It shows up, maybe comically, in the oversized attention the above mentioned news story received. It shows up, less comically, in the bitter fights we’re having about narrowly defining marriage in the Minnesota constitution.

But I wonder if, wherever you stand on those or other sexuality-related issues, we’d have more productive conversations if we all read Song of Songs again. And recognized the delight it takes in humanity, in “flesh”. It too acknowledges the dangers of (especially immature) sexuality. But in the context of loving commitment, this Bible book says more. Apparently, it believes we’re created, as Genesis 1 put it, “good.” Which isn’t, “Without the possibility of evil and abuse.” But rather, “Full of possibility for beauty.”

And that’s true for all humans- male, female, Jesus! Sin hasn’t so infected our “flesh” we’re incapable of doing things good and right and wonderful. Whether we’re talking sexuality or feeding the hungry or building just, decent communities, we may mess up at times, but we don’t always have to. Indeed, I believe that Jesus came to show us what more was possible if we’d better acknowledge and utilize- with God’s help!- the power  within us. If we’d more joyfully and respectfully honor the creative image of our Creator God, imprinted on our spirit and flesh. And our neighbors.

Grace and Peace,
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