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from Signs of the Times, No. 25 - Apr 2007
A recent discovery has led to speculation about whether the buried bones of Jesus have at last been discovered - along with his wife Mary Magdalene and their son.
It made a wonderful news release and much excitement in some quarters. Now that the dust has settled, the evidence doesn't look all that good. Leaving aside any commitments of faith people may have about whether it's possible, the evidence that it was that Jesus isn't strong enough to be convincing.
But what if it were true? Your Editor asked some MCU members this question: What difference would it make to your faith if it were proved that Jesus had married Mary Magdalene and had a son by her?
Here are some answers.
Well, there would be a problem because such a finding would be inconsistent with the figure of Jesus that emerges clearly from the Synoptic Gospels as someone who cuts loose from family ties. Jesus comes across as totally driven in his vocation to announce the Kingdom of God and seems to regard family relationships as potentially obstructive to its realisation. (Mark 3: 34-35). He calls his disciples to leave the security of family and home and join him in the formation of a new kind of community. Nowhere do we see Jesus placing his own emotional needs over and above the imperative for the Kingdom.
Reading a biography of Ghandi recently I learned that Ghandi was required by his family to marry at the age of fourteen, and I suppose one could imagine something similar being possible in the course of Jesus' childhood. If so, it would be pretty irrelevant to his later ministry. Yes, I think my faith could accommodate that. If the same ace researcher went on to prove definitively that Jesus died peacefully in his bed of old age it would be a different matter. But I'm not going to lose sleep over that just yet!
The Fathers said that "the unassumed is the unhealed". Whilst a celibate person is not necessarily a non-sexual person, it would seem that someone who is sexually active might better claim to have "assumed" human sexuality. Given that, it might also be argued that a sexually active Jesus would be more likely to contribute to the "healing" of human sexuality. In such a case, the revelation that Jesus had a sexual relationship, and was perhaps even a parent, might well strengthen rather than weaken my faith.
I don't think that it would make any difference. It is a nice idea and a hypothesis that it would be very difficult to prove, as has been shown by the multiplicity of theories that have muddied the water of faith over the last fifty years. But it does highlight those things that are extraneous to the christian faith.
As has now been shown there is a core of the reality of the teaching and life of Jesus who became seen by his followers as the Christ or Messiah initially for the Jews but ultimately for all humanity. He has modelled the perfect man, who walked his talk. So much so that his followers had experiences of him after his death that we now talk about as the resurrection. There were some who thought that he had a special relationship with Mary of Magdala, but what most matters is the respect that he undoubtedly showed in his relationships with women that was in contrast to the culture and teaching of his time.
Experience has shown to many that genetic inheritance is no proof of a quality or intended line of succession. All of us have an opportunity to model the desire of God; therefore to me the blood line is immaterial.
Jesus the child of Mary, wife of Joseph of Nazareth, is enough for me. And it is enough that he was human and showed us a way of living that transcends our transience and links us to eternity. I want to walk that way too.