Being Jesus’ wife has got to be tough work
So I’m guessing you have seen some press or maybe you haven’t, about Jesus having a wife. If you haven’t you can find many articles talking about it. Some old Coptic (Egyptian Christian) texts have been found that quote Jesus as referencing his wife. I have several reactions to such a claim:
1) That a group asserts a belief in such a reality doesn’t make it either true or false. It was true for them, so they wrote it, and believed it, and presumably they garnered some depth to their faith because of it. Good for them.
2) Being Jesus’ wife had to be tough work. I’m sure he had some funny moments and could be playful and loving. But you would have had to be very comfortable in your skin around him. He was prone to needing a lot of alone time. He had a melancholy streak to him. He had no home. And of course he suffered and died. The trouble wouldn’t have ended there – his friends were wishy-washy at first, a bit clueless, and always around. Eventually they found some spine but that generally led to similar homeless traveling or home-bound refereeing of squabbling communities not to mention their own stories of suffering and dying in your husband’s name. Not an easy legacy to carry. And of course it wouldn’t end there… because now you’re getting raked through the coals because your very existence is messing with people’s faith. Damn you wife of Jesus – it would better if you had never been born… or thought of in a Coptic tradition.
3) This gets me to my real point. If Jesus had a wife, or if he didn’t, it ought not to threaten your faith… even though so many of us will likely think it spells doom and thus is a idea that must be rooted out and destroyed. HERESY!
Okay so in case you don’t already know I’m a fan of heresy. Where would be without it? We’d be Jews waiting for the messiah to get around to coming… we’d be Roman Catholics practicing works righteousness… we’d be living a hundred year old Constantinian imperial model of how to be the church (okay maybe that one is still more or less true, and understand that I don’t intend to say its bad to be any of those… but I’m clearly not one anymore and the only reason I’m not is because of heresy). The point is… heresy stirs faith. Heresy is wrestling with God on the river’s edge and getting your hip jolted out of joint. Heresy is hearing a teacher say, “You’ve heard it said… but I tell you.”
Jesus was a heretic.. Martin Luther and John Calvin were heretics… so I’m happy to be one too.
In his book Velvet Elvis author Robb Bell says (and I LOVE this), “Doctrine makes a good servant and horrible master.” Unfortunately many of us have a deeper relationship with our doctrines than with the God whose world inspires them. Robb Bell contrasts two approaches to them. A brick wall or the springs on a trampoline. In the brick wall approach we cannot allow anyone to mess with a single point of doctrine or the wall begins to crumble. The trampoline however is built on the idea that the springs are dynamic and moving and changing – you can’t have a trampoline unless the springs move, stretch, and are generally dynamic rather than static. There is fluidity to the ground upon which our faith rests.
If the existence of a wife for Jesus is proven (and I cannot imagine such a thing could be done but who knows…) it doesn’t change anything. Big surprise… a human being got married. Jesus is totally human. And at the heart of being human is companionship. Granted companionship doesn’t require marriage, but it certainly fits in the picture.
The heart of this all this is, for me, big and broad and far reaching. Upon what do we stake our faith? There is tendency to desire absolute true statements that cannot be messed with. But that isn’t what we were given. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say that they are in the right because they are standing on the word of God (meaning a particular verse of the Bible usually and often to the exclusion of other verses). What’s amazing about that is that any one of us that picks up a Bible is picking up a word from God that has been interpreted many many times already before you read any of it.
A human oral tradition passed it on for years adding nuance (wait for it…) and their own spin on the story. (If you don’t agree with that than spend some time wondering why we have four gospels instead of one… and why they all differ in varying degrees.) A human eventually wrote it out based on their recall of the stories… and others edited it (sometimes – and, wait for it, changing the story)… and yet more humans transcribed it over and over and over (I’m sure they never made any mistakes!). Eventually a group of humans put together what we would call “The Bible” choosing some texts over others. And in many cases had to choose which particular copy would be the authoritative one.. and other times having to piece a text together out of fragments and make decisions about which ones should be used. And that was all to get a copy in a dead version of a language few people still speak. So then a much more recent group of people had to make their interpretation of the best way to say all that in English. So basically when you read the Bible you are reading a text that has had a lot of different people making their own interpretations on a text… and it’s a lot of links in the chain back to its original authorial intent. Why do I share all this? Because our faith is not built on a brick wall… it was always a trampoline (at best). Because the Bible isn’t meant to be a historically perfect account of all that transpired between Genesis and Revelation. This means that historical data – true or false – can’t make the Bible crumble… but you also can’t so easily “stand” on the world of God because that word doesn’t really stand still for anyone (and I’m betting this was true for any wife of Jesus as well).
I for one find that life giving. God isn’t pinned down in words on a page. The very nature of faith is belief in something that cannot be proven, that cannot be pinned down, that has – at its very nature – an essence of mystery. Sadly, far too often, in the name of that very faith we attempt to suck out all the mystery, life, and dynamic energy in order to make it knowable, static, and… brick like. This suits our desire to explain everything and control it… but that reeks of turning God into an idol of our making to suit our needs (hey – check out this golden calf I just found). And Jesus has a response to that tendency in Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mark 8:33)
So let’s cut Jesus’ wife a break… and let us put our doctrines in service to God, not God in service to our doctrines. And let us stop worrying about how other people’s faith (or lack of) threatens ours and instead realize that God and faith and the life they inspire is far too grand to be captured in only one picture, one practice, one creed and one brick wall. Thanks be to God, Amen.