Ah, the famous papyrus fragment has popped up again (“Jesus ‘wife’ papyrus is likely ancient,” April 11). Did Jesus have a wife or didn’t he? Could she be a disciple? After all, on the tiny, ink-splotched scrap of paper dauntlessly unveiled in 2012 by Harvard Divinity School Prof. Karen King, the words are clear, sort of: “My wife” and “She will be able to be a disciple.” Now Brown, Columbia and MIT have all weighed in. No. Yes. Maybe.
Yet especially in these days before Easter, instead of debating which women might have been real, let’s consider those whom Christians across the world know to be real.
Take Mary and Martha of Bethany, described in John’s Gospel. They were among Jesus’ closest friends, the ones he returned to often. There, in their little Bethany home some 2 miles from Jerusalem, Mary had poured expensive oil of spikenard (worth about a year’s salary) over his feet, drying them with her hair — infuriating the disciples, but offering Jesus extraordinary spiritual companionship.
It was there, too, that busy Martha was chastised by Jesus for being “distracted with many things.” Yet one wonders if Jesus would have felt so welcome if the windows weren’t clean, the food not plentiful, the bedding not fresh and the hearth not warm. After all, with no cellphones or mail, notice would not have preceded a visit from Jesus and 12 of his male friends. Surely, Martha needed a little help in the kitchen, and Peter, James and John were probably not going to don aprons.
Then there was Mary Magdalene, she of the tortured press over the years, described as a prostitute for centuries in popular history — yet not in scripture. Instead, she was cured of seven demons by Jesus, and she was the first person — male or female — to see Jesus after the resurrection, when the disciples were in hiding.
The first word from the angels at the tomb: “Woman.”
The first word Jesus said after the resurrection: “Woman.”
Was Jesus married? Don’t think so. Scripture doesn’t mention it. What if he was? Scandalous? There’s lots more scandalous Jesus did in his time. Get real. The issue of marriage is not deal-breaking, at least for many of us. He was human and divine, after all, not just divine.
Here’s what was really scandalous — calling us friends, conversing with us (the longest recorded conversation Jesus had with anyone was with a woman), healing us and our loved ones, driving out our demons, saving us from being stoned on charges of adultery and, oh yes, overcoming evil and making possible eternal life.
Scandalous enough. At least for me, and about 2 billion Christians around the world.
The Rev. Lindsay Hardin Freeman is a Minnesota-based Episcopal priest who writes extensively on women of the Bible. She is the author of four books, including “The Scarlet Cord: Conversations With God’s Chosen Women.”