Beside the big square in Capernaum, in the fishermen’s barrio, there is a well they call “the whispering well.” Every morning when the sun rises above the horizon, the women gather by the well to fetch water…
A Neighbor: Have you seen the face of that girl? How deep her eyebags are!…. She was so quiet. She didn’t even utter a word while she was here… And to think what a blabber mouth she usually is!
Old Woman: She’s too young to be sick. She’s in love… “She’s lovestruck”… Didn’t you hear how she sighed while she was leaving?
Salome: Good morning everyone! How’s everything this morning neighbors?
Another Neighbor: With much energy to work, Ma’m Salome. While I’m strong and healthy….
Neighbor: You can say that again…. Well, we’ve been talking about young Rachel…
Salome: What’s happened to her?
Old Woman: Haven’t you seen here lately? She looks very pale and stares with a blank look on her face…
Neighbor: You talk to her but she doesn’t respond….
Salome: She must be sick…
Neighbor: Nothing of the sort. She’s just in love. The girl’s in love…. And you ought to know this, because in a way it also concerns you….
Salome: What are you talking about? What have I got to do with the girl’s being in love?
Neighbor: Ma’m Salome, how come you haven’t discovered it yet? Rachel is interested in Jesus, of Nazareth…. Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed how she looks at him everytime he speaks…
Another Neighbor: And don’t deny that she’s been going to your house everyday this week… hasn’t she….?
Salome: Well, the girl needed some salt and she came to ask me for some….
Old Woman: And the following day, she wanted a tomato…
Neighbor: And some flour the day after…
Salome: Well, yes…
Neighbor: Can’t you see, Salome? She goes to your house hoping to see Jesus…
Neighbor: She also goes to the wharf like a crazy girl, goes up and down the street, and thinks she might see him with your sons… She’s fallen for him. She can’t deny that.
Salome: I wonder if what you’re saying is possible.
Neighbor: Of course it is. Why don’t you find out yourself…. and then tell us, huh?
Rachel: Good morning, Ma’m Salome!
Salome: Good morning…. Ah, it’s you… Come in, come in…. What’s up?… Do you need anything, Rachel, my child?
Rachel: Ma’m Salome, I need a little oil…
Salome: Why? Did you run out of oil?
Rachel: Well, I’ve got very little left, and I’m not sure if I’ll have enough for tomorrow….. I’d better be sure…
Salome: Of course, of course… But, why don’t you come in… don’t stay there at the door….
Rachel: Are you… are you alone?
Salome: Yes, my child, old Zebedee and the boys are out fishing, as always.
Rachel: Yeah, of course, they’re working…
Salome: One must work in order to eat, child…. God said that since the beginning; you must earn your bread by working hard…
Rachel: And… and… no one else is here, is that right?… Then, I’m going now….
Salome: What about the oil you needed?
Rachel: Gosh, I forgot… with so much work I have at home, I forget everything… and what with ten brothers to attend to…
Salome: Don’t leave yet, child…. Why don’t you sit for a while so we can chat….? That way, you can relax a little…
Rachel: Well, but…
Salome: Nothing. C’mon, sit here… That’s right…. How I wish I had a daughter like you, that I could chat with…. But you’ve seen what I have… two boys… When you have your own children, ask the Lord to give you sons and daughters. Men are the breadwinners, while we are the molders….
Rachel: Oh, Ma’m Salome, how can I have children…. I’ve got a long way to go yet…
Salome: No, my child, you’re of marrying age now… And… and I bet you often think of it too…. am I right?
Rachel’s face became redder than the scarf she was wearing on her head. She was quiet. But her heart was about to burst….
Salome: Look, child, I… I want to help you. Tell me everything. You have no mother and somehow you’ve got to tell someone what’s inside your heart…
Rachel: Ma’m Salome, oh, Ma’m Salome… it’s been a month that I can’t sleep and…
Salome: And at night, you think of him… you think of Jesus, don’t you?
Rachel: How… how did you know?
Salome: Oh my child, love is like a bell. It creates a loud noise for everyone to hear.
Rachel: Do you think it’s something wrong?
Salome: No, my dear, why would it be wrong? You’re just in love. I’d be very happy if this guy found a girl and married her once and for all… With the kind of life he has, this Moreno should get married now…
Rachel: Do you think he’d fall for me….?
Salome: Well, child, this Jesus is a little weird, and I wouldn’t know how to explain that to you… but, don’t worry, I’ll help you. He’s been living with us for quite a while now and I’m beginning to know him… Yeah, let me handle this….
Salome: Old man, you’ve got to talk to Jesus. And talk to him clearly…
Zebedee: Sure, I’ll talk to him. If you insist that this girl is deserving…..
Salome: Rachel is a nice, hardworking and loving girl…. Besides, she’s pretty. I think she loves him very much. What else would this Moreno want?
Zebedee: Ah, old woman, no one will ever know. Jesus is Jesus. Okay, I’ll talk to him. Man to man, I wonder why this rascal doesn’t get married. Everytime I see him leave for the square to work, I’ve always asked myself that question… and when he gets back at night… nothing!…. I think he’s a little weirdo!
Zebedee: I’ll get to the point, Jesus.
Jesus: Sure, Zebedee, to the point.
Zebedee: For several days, I’ve been trying to talk to you, seriously and candidly…
Jesus: Why, is something wrong?
Zebedee: Jesus, I’m talking to you as a father and as a friend… I’m very fond of you, young man. The truth is, and I’m talking to you as a man, I don’t understand why…. you haven’t gotten yourself a wife and have continued to be a bachelor, dammit!
Jesus: Oh, is that it…?
Zebedee: Yeah, that’s it… Now, answer me.
Jesus: Well, I don’t know… I thought you were going to ask me to forget all about this mess I’m into…. and you got me there…. I wasn’t expecting your question….
Zebedee: Listen to me, young man, life goes by fast. A man’s strength wears off sooner than you’d expect…. You always talk about God, what he wants… Well then, if God had put in man the seed of life, it was for him to sow it in the woman, so that she wouldn’t remain sterile. Is that right or wrong?
Jesus: Sure, it’s right. The Lord wants to see all trees bear fruit.
Zebedee: So, why the hell do you remain single…?
Jesus: But I’m never alone, Zebedee. Ever since we formed our group and started to work for the Kingdom of God, I’ve always been surrounded by people…
Zebedee: No, no, you can’t get away from me the way the flying fish do, rascal… I mean “alone” at night, without a wife, without children… You will always be surrounded with people, but one thing doesn’t cancel the other… Don’t you try to confuse me… Look, Jesus, when a man has no wife, all his energy goes up to his brains and tururu….. he ends up a crazy man! I wouldn’t want the same thing to happen to you…
Jesus: Do I look like a mad man?
Zebedee: No, that’s not what I mean, but…
Jesus: Look, Zebedee, now I remember something I heard once in the synagogue: that the solitary man is not a dead tree, because even single people have a place in the house of God.
Zebedee: There you go again… Say, Jesus, let’s forget about those beautiful words and let’s get to the point….. Don’t you like women? Or are you gay?… Is that it?…. No, no, don’t tell me anything! I’ve never thought of that as a reason for your not wanting to get married.
Jesus: Don’t talk that way, Zebedee. Gays are not filthy slobs.
Zebedee: Ah, no? So what are they?
Jesus: They are also people whom God loves. Neither are they dead trees.
Zebedee: C’mon, Jesus, don’t defend them….!
Jesus: Neither should you criticize them, Zebedee. What do you know about them and their problems?
Zebedee: Okay, okay… You’re not one of them… Why don’t you get married then? Don’t tell me you haven’t found a woman of your choice….
Jesus: Well, I met a girl once… a couple of years ago… But I wasn’t sure…
Zebedee: You’ll be an old bachelor all your life! Is that what you want?
Jesus: Wait a minute, Zebedee. To be single is one thing and to be an old bachelor is another, I think.
Zebedee: Bah, a single man is half of man, and so is a single woman. The daughter who remains a virgin is a shame to her parents.
Jesus: One half a man is egoistic. There are egoistic people among both the married and unmarried.
Zebedee: Jesus, listen to me, there’s a girl in town who is in love with you…
Jesus: So, that’s where we have been heading, right, Zebedee?
Zebedee: If you can’t see that someone is in love with you, then somehow you must be told about it, dammit!
Jesus: And who is she?
Zebedee: She’s Rachel, the late Hagar’s daughter, who has several little brothers.
Jesus: Oh, yeah, now I know. She seems to be a nice girl.
Zebedee: She’s a very nice girl! She’d make a good wife for you!
Jesus: Yeah, that’s possible, Zebedee, but….
Zebedee: No more buts, today, you’re going to see her, talk to her, and then you can start planning things…
Jesus: Wait a minute, Zebedee. Don’t rush.
Zebedee: What’s the matter? Don’t you like her? You prefer another one? Is that it? That’s okay. Trust me, young man, this will be between the two of us only.
Jesus: I love all of them, Zebedee.
Zebedee: Lies! If you say you love them all, then you don’t love anyone at all!
Jesus: Really, I love all of them! That’s why I wanna be free to be able to help them.
Zebedee: Who do you think you are, huh? The protector of abandoned women?
Jesus: That’s not it, Zebedee. The truth is I want to work for my people. You know how difficult things are now. Look what happened to the prophet, John. He was beheaded. How can one have a wife and support her in this anguished state? What will happen to the children? If they lose their father, who’ll earn a living for them, huh?…. Really, Zebedee, I need to have free hands, more so at this time. God is so much in a hurry that even in my sleep, I have my sandals on.
Zebedee: You make things look horrible, Jesus. I didn’t say you should put your arms up and do nothing. But, hell, can’t you go on with the struggle and stay married?
Jesus: Well, of course, you can. Look at Peter who has his wife Rufina, his four sons and another one who was just born. There’s James who is also married. John is single, but Andrew has a girlfriend and he’s getting married anytime… There’s a place for everyone in God’s Kingdom, where everyone counts, whether married, widows or single.
Zebedee: But you… you….!
Jesus: What about me, Zebedee?
Zebedee: You haven’t done anything in order to get married, damn!
Jesus: Nor have I done anything so as not to get married, damn!
Zebedee: So, what now?
Jesus: Nothing, Zebedee. Let each one take his or her own road and see what God asks. Look, God called Abraham from the north and Moses from the south. Through different roads, the two men arrived at the promised land…..
Only the gospel of Matthew takes what Jesus has said about “the eunuchs, the castrated, the celibates for the kingdom,” and which provides support for this episode. For experts they fall within the “enigmatic” sayings of Jesus, in the sense that it is difficult for us to comprehend the exact meaning today as well as the exact historical occasion. They are likewise enigmatic considering how strange they must have seemed to his contemporaries. Everything seemed to indicate that Jesus tried to explain with these phrases his personal situation to those who questioned him about it.
In Israel, neither virginity, nor the state of being single, nor celibacy, all which were understood to be stable situations, were of any value whatsoever. Rather, they were anti-value, a disgrace, and something negative. The virginity of a woman was most appreciated only before matrimony. Such virginity before marriage had to be protected. It was an honor not only for her but also for the family to bring it to matrimony. But a woman who does not marry and have children was a disgrace, a family stigma. This was also true for the man. An unmarried man, for whatever reason, was viewed as somewhat weird, and incomprehensible, unless he had made a special vow (some of the Essene monks, for example). The value was sexual relations and fertility. The rest did not figure in the set of values of the people. Therefore, they were understood to be contrary to the will of the God of life. All Scriptures highlight the importance of matrimony, the sexual union between the man and the woman, as something positive, beautiful, and an ultimate expression of human relation as the most appropriate image of the love that God feels for his people. Whatever contempt, disdain or rejection there is of human sexuality has nothing to do with the biblical message; it is in contradiction to the biblical message.
Jesus did not marry. Although this is not explicitly said in any text in the New Testament, we consider it as something historical. Given the same data, the same can be said of John the Baptist. Nevertheless, that Jesus did not marry does not mean that he was asexual, that sex meant nothing to him. Jesus was a man, not a woman. As such, he had a male sexual dimension. In this sense, it would not be out of place to think that there were women attracted to him. Nothing of this sort appears in the gospel, not because they did not exist in his life, but precisely because in the thinking of his contemporaries, it was somewhat natural not to write about the topic. Neither does it say that Jesus never sneezed nor suffered from stomach pains nor hummed a song. It is practically certain all these occurred. Textually speaking, Jesus refers to three types of eunuchs (the unmarried, the impotent, the men without wives). The first are “those who were born that way from their mothers’ womb.” There have always been males who, due to some physical defects – generally congenital – cannot have sexual relations with a woman. Within this group is included the homosexual. The other group referred to by Jesus was composed of those “who were made eunuchs by others.” These are the castrated boys and men. Throughout history – and even today – male castration has been institutionalized. In oriental courts, the kings castrated their men who served as guardians of their harems, in order to make sure that they did not have any relations with their women. In other countries, castration was done in order to obtain greater intelligence, for example, among the teachers. War, pleasure and power were considered to correspond to man, while delicate work, a certain knowledge, etc. were considered that of a woman – or “effeminate,” when done by a male.
In Israel, religious law did not allow the castration of men nor livestock. The castrated man could not enter the temple nor the synagogue, nor could a castrated animal be offered as sacrifice. However, there were several castrated men in the courts of the kings of Israel, influenced by other Oriental countries or because they were brought in as slaves. Finally, Jesus speaks textually of a third group of men: “Those who have been made eunuchs for the Kingdom of God.”
This is the type of singleness or virginity – the celibate “for the kingdom” – a new category that Jesus brings. After him, Christianity, presented an alternative to the panorama of sexuality, as it had been understood until then in the Old Testament. This is about a relational celibate. That is, celibacy is not a value in itself, but in relation to the Kingdom: For the Kingdom. That was Jesus’ option. He did not marry not because he was sexually abnormal, nor was he ever castrated; not because he was impotent, nor was he a type of “old bachelor” who was scared of women and shied away. Neither was he the type who sought a solitary life as a rejection of communal life or a life of co-existence.
Rather, he remained single, and rejected matrimony for the “sake of the kingdom.” Jesus profoundly lived the “urgency” of the Kingdom of God. He conceived of his mission as something tremendously important, which needed to be carried out in a short time. The time was short. And God’s time was passing and there was no time to waste.
The way he understood his vocation is at the bottom of Jesus’ option not to marry. To serve the Kingdom is in essence, the justification of Christian celibacy. When commitment to the Kingdom is radically lived, one can be in a situation that is truly compatible with a normal family life. The celibate allows for a certain mobility, poverty and freedom, which in principle, marriage cannot offer.
Any stand on sexuality is valid before God. There is no need from the biblical nor Christian point of view, to categorize virgins and married ones as “better” and “worse,” as first or second class Christians, as perfect or imperfect. Much less are condemnations necessary. As regards homosexuality, the gospel – which does not mention anything explicitly – says it all in the context of the message, in proclaiming very strongly human freedom and the respect for people. In any case, society’s rejects – the ridiculed, the outcasts – are the privileged ones in God’s love. It is important to recall the beautiful phrase attributed to them by the prophet Isaiah and which Jesus remembers in this episode (Is 56:3-5). God so loves them and makes them heirs to His promise (Wis 3:l4). Israel awaited the time of the Messiah, this generous welcome on God’s part, of eunuchs and the castrated, as citizens of the Kingdom and as everybody’s equal.
Everything mentioned by Jesus in Matthew’s text makes explicit reference to the male. Female sexuality, its characteristics and problems, are more recent understandings of science and psychology. Until very recently, it was thought that the only value in female sexuality was fertility. Woman’s pleasure in sexual relations was viewed as something suspicious, if not bad. On the other hand, since it was not a woman’s “decision” to marry or not, but her parents’, neither could the question of female celibacy be presented. Nevertheless, in other societies at present, and with the evolution of ideas, we can say that what is basic in Christian celibacy – greater freedom to live and die for the Kingdom – is equally applied to man and woman alike. They are equally capable of this option which they can fully carry out as members of society.