Why didn’t Jesus marry?

November 8, 2004

In the movie “Armageddon”, as some of you may remember, mankind is in big trouble. A giant asteroid is on a collision course with Earth and there seems to be no way to stop an impact that will destroy all humanity. NASA recruits a rugged oil driller, played by Bruce Willis, to rocket out into space with his team and detonate the asteroid with a nuclear charge. The entire world depends upon Bruce. The million-dollar question I ask you is, “While rocketing to the asteroid, did Bruce Willis get married and start a family?”

Obviously the question is absurd. Bruce had a specific mission—to save mankind from a killer asteroid—and marrying and starting a family was not part of that mission. Jesus was sent by his heavenly Father to earth for an even more serious mission—to save mankind from eternal death—and marrying and starting a biological family was not part of that purpose. Rather, Jesus came to start a heavenly family in which we are all able to become adopted children of God!

Marriage is a great gift, bestowed by God for the purposes of unifying a couple and bringing new life into the world through that union. A husband and wife are called to become saints through their love for one another and to transform the world through their faithful witness. This is a truly awe-inspiring mission, but this was not Christ’s mission as savior of mankind. God did not become man in order to build an intimate love relationship with just one lucky woman, but rather to give himself fully and unreservedly to all humanity. This is why St. Paul teaches that the Lord actually does have a bride—his Church! Jesus loves not just one individual, but each of his children, even more intensely than the most passionate Romeo ever loved his Juliet.

Contrary to what books like The Da Vinci Code claim, a first-century Jewish man was under no religious obligation to marry. Jesus had both historical and contemporary examples to follow in his decision to remain single. Some of Israel’s great prophets were celibate (such as Jeremiah) or were commonly thought to have lived celibate lives during their ministries (such as Moses). During Jesus’ own day, the Essenes (a monastic group within Judaism) were well-known for their celibate lifestyles. Likewise, the Lord’s forerunner John the Baptist was also celibate. So while people might have found it unusual that the Lord was not married, such a lifestyle was not unheard-of. It need not appear too strange to us, either, for celibacy was the lifestyle that best enabled Jesus to live his mission of universal love.

It should awe us that Jesus loves each one of us with such intense love, instead of being like the gods of Greek myth who descended to earth simply for their own physical pleasure. Yet our society seems much more fascinated with the idea of Jesus being married. Why is this? I think it is probably because our culture is obsessed with sex, and consequently we have great difficulty imagining that anyone (even Jesus) could be fully human and truly fulfilled without an exciting and plentiful sex-life. But by his example of selfless love, Jesus shows us that we can only be truly fulfilled by living wholeheartedly for the sake of the kingdom of God—both for those called to marriage and those called to celibacy.

Some biblical quotes about celibacy

A previous reflection of mine: The Incarnation & the Da Vinci Code

Article by Matthew Pinto: “Why are Catholic priests not allowed to marry?” 

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