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The real meaning of ‘wife’

Every spring as Christians prepare to celebrate the resurrection, popular culture is eager to present believers with alternate narratives of the life of the Lord, as if the weekly unfolding of His life in the Liturgy is somehow unreliable.

All year the Church’s worship is filled with the witness of many hands who were inspired by God to write down the future coming of the Christ in the Old Testament and the testimony of those who knew Him, had personal experiences of or with Him, or those who knew the ones who knew Him in the New Testament.

Scholarship of these truly ancient texts date them either to before the birth of Jesus, as with the Old Testament, or to the years just after His earthly sojourn, as with the New Testament. It isn’t enough to see how many individual hands went into recording these prophecies and events for future generations. Christianity is not like some world religions that base their belief system on ancient texts believed to have been written by one hand or received by one prophet. Rather, men and women of many different eras and epochs received God’s word, lived among it, and recorded it for us in what we call the Bible.

In a supposedly scientific age wherein the only enlightened ones rely on empirical evidence tested by trial and error, there is always eagerness to present new testimony about the Lord of Christianity that somehow challenges the status quo. Curious how such “discoveries” never seem to appear with reference to Muhammad, or Buddah, or even the pagan deities of fertility, or any other such prized overseers.

These alternate accounts about Jesus always seem to debut at Christmas or Easter, the two holidays that, even in a seemingly post-Christian, multi-cultural milieu built on the mercurial foundations of tolerance and respect, seem to still be nominally observed by a majority of the western world. Easter of 2013 and now Easter of 2014 are no different.

Last year archivists announced the discovery of a supposedly ancient papyrus that read, in part, “Jesus said to them, ‘my wife … she is able to be my disciple.” Interestingly the carbon dating on this allegedly ancient papyrus is all over the map: some tests showed it to be from 405-350 B.C., or 307-209 B.C., or maybe even A.D. 659-969. In 1988, when the same type of testing was done on the purported burial cloth of Christ, the Shroud of Turin, one result showing the linen garment to be from the 13th century was enough to dismiss it as a cleverhoax. Not so this papyrus!

No wonder St. Jerome, when studying the texts of the pre-Christian prophet Isaiah, said in the 4th century that ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ because the New Testament tells us Jesus did have a wife. We call her the Church! Both St. Paul in Ephesians 5 and St. John in his Book of Revelation (19 and 22), speak of the bride of the Lamb, which is His community of believers, the Church.

In an age convinced with the premise that Jesus, and therefore no one, could, would, can or will control themselves without recourse to the pleasures of the procreative act — especially when it is non-procreative — it is no wonder post-facto accounts of Jesus’ activity are eaten up.

It is too easy to forget that Jesus’ name means “God saves.” This means that God alone, and no other human endeavor or activity, no matter how pleasurable or profitable, brings fulfillment. This is what it means to call ourselves Christians — we follow the Anointed One who dedicated Himself to the mission of God. For those who remain faithful to the Bridegroom, the Easter joy will be brought to fulfillment.

FATHER BRYAN BABICK is the vicar for Divine Worship and the Sacraments for the Diocese of Charleston. Email him at: bbabick@catholic-doc.org.

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