December 18, 2009
(Jeremiah 23:5-8; Matthew 1:18-25)
In the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston hangs an illustrative painting of the holy family in Egypt. Mary holds Jesus in her arms with a sphinx as protection from the wind while Joseph reclines at a distance keeping guard over his precious charges. This picture may be contrasted with a popular, contemporary sculpture of the holy family with Mary holding Jesus snuggled in the arms of Joseph. The museum painting intimates the perpetual virginity of Mary while the contemporary statue suggests sexual intimacy.
Today’s gospel saying, “He (Joseph) had no relations with her (Mary) until she bore a son...” seems to imply that after Jesus’ birth Joseph and Mary had normal marital relations. However, John Meier, one of today’s foremost gospel scholars, comments that the word for until in Hebrew and Greek “need not mean that there was a change in the situation after Jesus’ birth.”
The issue is important although, perhaps, not critical. We find it in the First Letter to the Corinthians where Paul writes, “It is a good for a man not to touch a woman” so that he or she (certainly the same holds for a woman) might dedicate himself or herself completely to the Lord. We certainly think of Mary as so dedicated. Of course, the elevation of virginity does not disparage marriage. Indeed, some married people live far holier lives than virgins who think of little else than having sexual relations or, for that matter, the unmarried who prefer to remain single out of self-serving independence.