Amidst the hype of the newly “discovered” – and forged – Papyrus scroll that seemingly serves as evidence that Jesus had a wife, it is highly interesting and noteworthy that NBC news chose the following title for one of its articles on the topic: “Too Holy for Sex: The Problem of a Married Jesus.”
Of the many things that could be said about the actual forgery and the avid cooperation of the media to purposely stir confusion, and of all the underlying misunderstandings of holiness, marriage and sexuality that litter the panorama of our society and culture, this article will focus on just two ideas that seem to be suggested in the above referenced piece.
First, it will address the implication that sexual acts are not holy, and consider if this is a belief that should be qualified. Second, it will briefly consider the reasons why Jesus abstained from marriage and sexual activity. Both points in the article are related from the angle of understanding that man was made for love, and that love is more than sex.
The statement, “too holy for sex,” seems to reference an idea that has persisted in different forms throughout history: that the material is evil, while the spiritual is good. It suggests a rigid view of the body as something that must be rejected as impure, as incompatible with the holy.
Given that God Himself created the human body – and created it to be capable of sexual acts – and that God Himself assumed human nature, and fashioned for Himself a thoroughly human body, including its ability to also engage in sexual acts… it cannot be held as true that the material is evil. And it therefore cannot be automatically held as true that sexual acts, which fall under the realm of the material, are impure and unholy, without qualification.
Now certainly, there is the reality of original sin, and the resulting interior disorder by which the flesh pits itself against the soul, and the soul rebels against the Providential governance of its Creator. We of course experience in our own persons the daily struggle of self-mastery, the effort to make of our lives a gift to others, rather than use others for our own interests.
In this context, it is very possible, and, in fact, all too commonly experienced, that sexual acts are indeed unholy and impure… not because the body or the material is evil, but rather because these acts are performed contrary to the purpose and intent God established for them. They are performed not as acts of love, but as acts of selfishness; this is what make them unholy and impure.
Now enter the recent media firestorm regarding the possibility of a “married” Jesus. Jesus was sinless, and therefore had the potential to use his sexuality in an eminently holy and pure way. It is not because of Jesus’ divinity as opposed to the “evilness” of His assumed material humanity that the possibility of his being married and sexually active is precluded.
It is rather that Jesus’ human nature, including his fully human body, with all of its sexual potency, is precisely the human nature of a Divine Person, of the Son, and, as such, reveals in a material medium the identity and mission of this Divine Person.
The Second Person of the Trinity assumed flesh to redeem the flesh, all flesh. His is a universal mission, to restore all of creation towards a proper relation to its Creator. Thus all of Jesus’ humanity participates in His identity and mission – His human will and intellect, his human emotions and passions, are all directed towards His Father, towards perfect union with His Father, and towards our salvation.
His humanity is already totally and exclusively dedicated, totally and exclusively committed to One other, in the same total self-gift that characterizes the total and exclusive dedication and commitment of a human marriage. In living this way, in choosing freely and voluntarily to abstain from sexual acts in a human marriage in order to dedicate Himself, including His body, exclusively to the Father, and, further, in choosing certain others to imitate Him exactly in this lifestyle, Jesus “redeemed” sex, as it were.
Now, through His perfect humanity, He makes available to all who approach Him in prayer and the sacraments, the strength and grace necessary to either exercise their sexual capacities in harmony with God’s will, thus making their sexual acts holy; or to, like Him, live celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.
So of all the things that could be said in response to NBC’s article, it is essential to disentangle several of its multiple misconceptions: the body is inherently good, made by God and assumed by Him in His Incarnation; the body, though good, is also fallen, and it was for our salvation that God was made man and fashioned for Himself a human body; Jesus’ total and exclusive dedication to His Father, a dedication of His whole Person, which necessarily included His assumed human nature and body, precluded a similar exclusive dedication to any particular human woman.
Another article would be required to examine the great store of meaning that might be gleaned from contemplating Jesus’ lifestyle. For one thing, He teaches us that the body cannot be divorced from the person. For another, He teaches us that marriage is about love, not only about sex. Rather than taunting Our Lord as being too holy for sex, we would do well to learn from Him that a person is more than his body, and that love is more than sex.