22nd July and the day of Mary Magdalene; for centuries the church conflated two separate incidents to suggest Mary was a “sinful woman”, a prostitute, and in modern times people try to suggest she was Jesus’ wife.
If she was, why didn’t the opponents of the early Church say the Christian stuff was all nonsense? “Sure, don’t be believing all that stuff, doesn’t he live down the street there with his wife and kids!”
If she was, how did Peter became the leader of the Jesus movement? Look at what happens when the Christian movement begins – the leader is not the one most people would have chosen. Peter was a big, coarse man, not the most obvious candidate to lead a religious movement in the learned and cosmopolitan environment of Jerusalem. There is no trace in the Gospels that he was a man of great subtlety or was a brilliant intellectual. Peter is not the man who would have been chosen by most recruitment agencies, but he is the man who announces that Jesus is risen from the dead. Isn’t it odd that Peter would die for something that he had made up? Why would a man so unsuited for a job have been able to fulfil the role if Jesus had a wife and family to explain?
And what about James? James, the brother of the Jesus appears not only in Scripture but in the writings of the Jewish historian, Josephus. Josephus lived from 38-100 A.D. and regarded Christianity with contempt, but here is how his book Antiquities records James, Ananus, the high priest, “assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others. And when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.” James had been leader of the church in Jerusalem, coming to prominence as early as AD 36, he died in AD 62. The Christian Gospels show James as critical towards his brother. James was outside of Jesus’ circle of friends, he was known to be hostile to what Jesus was teaching, yet something happens which completely turns him around. Would James have changed the way he did if the claims about Jesus were not true, if he were living in comfort with Mary Magdalene?
What about Saul of Tarsus? A very serious, very devout Jew, he appears in the history of the church as the one who persecutes Christians. He is sent to put down the Christian movement, to wipe it out. He goes to Damascus on a mission to stop the Christians and he experiences a sudden change of heart. How can we explain his behaviour, except in terms of a very deep and very intense religious experience? Something happened to this opponent of Christ that turned him into the foremost supporter; strange behaviour if Jesus was alive and well in Jerusalem with his wife and family.
If Jesus was living a pleasant life as a family man, no-one would have believed any of the Christian story. It would have been discredited within a few years.
At the heart of Christianity there is faith, and a Jesuit friend once told me that faith is a gift. Faith is untroubled by silly claims because it looks far deeper for evidence. In the words of the old mission hall hymn,
He lives, He lives,
Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me
Along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives,
Salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.