A few years ago, an ancient fragment of papyrus (pictured here) was raising eyebrows for these words translated from Coptic: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife'” — and that’s where it is literally broken off. Whether Jesus was married or not is a matter of doctrine for some of the church (specifically, NOT married), and burning or idle curiosity for others. To be clear, the oldest and most reliable sources historically-speaking say nothing at all about Jesus’ marital status. We can speculate either way, but that’s all it would be — speculation.
There’s little in the gospels about Jesus’ relationship with his family of origin. One incident, found only in John’s gospel, has Jesus commending his mother to the care of his disciple John as he is dying on the cross. It functions in the gospel more as an explanation of why Mary lived with John thereafter, but one can certainly surmise that it shows Jesus taking up his role as eldest son to see that his mother is cared for. The other incident, related in all three of the other (“synoptic,” because they see things similarly, relating much of the same material arranged in similar timelines and geographical settings), tells of Jesus’ biological family wanting to see him as he’s speaking to the public. Jesus’ response is that his real family is anyone who does God’s will, indicating the disciples and others gathered around him. This is Jesus’ only reference to his own family.
This coming Sunday, the first Sunday of October, is World Communion Sunday. Christian communities around the globe will join in the sacrament aware that even those who rarely celebrate it will be do so that day, intentionally. It’s like a huge family dinner, spread out across the globe. It’s a twenty-four hour family reunion feast held at millions of tables throughout the day. We don’t know much about Jesus’ biological family, nor whether he was a husband or father. But we do know that he considers us family. We may not get it right all the time, but if doing what God desires guides our decisions, it goes a long way towards us living accordingly. These are the family values Jesus has for us to live by: God’s will as we find it in his teachings, his healings, his miracles of feeding hungry crowds, his prophetic call for justice and blessing for the poor and disenfranchised, his stories of forgiveness, his blessing of the outcast.
World Communion Sunday is a great time to join in a worship service, at Pilgrim or the church of your choice, to experience being in the family of Jesus. At Pilgrim, we’ll explore further Jesus’ teachings about family as he answers a challenge about divorce, establishes a place for children, and calls us sisters and brothers. And we’ll join in the family dinner with bread and cup, to which Jesus invites us all — including you.