In September 2012, a Harvard Divinity School historian announced that she’d identified a scrap of papyrus that contains a phrase never seen in ANY piece of scripture. “Jesus said, my wife. . .” No one knows what came before or after those words. Or what any of it means. It will UNDOUBTABLY be called a forgery. But what if it was real? Who wrote those words?
Jesus said, “My wife . . . “ and then he paused. Swept his gaze around the circle of expectant eyes, lit by the flickering candle flame shadows dancing on the walls of my father’s earthen brick home.
In that instant, I willed myself to be smaller. Standing by the door Jesus had just passed through. Followed by a cool desert breeze that still held traces of starlight. I watched the men in the room watch him.
I was a ten-year-old child. This close to the circle. And standing that close to the circle simply wasn't done. But there were few, if any, in our village or the countryside who would question my father’s decisions. And standing this close to the circle, I came to learn, that most of the men found a young girl, such as I, invisible. For the rest of the men’s eyes, and of course for the coming of the great Jesus, I willed myself to be smaller.
The news of Jesus visiting our village had come quickly. At sunrise. The travelers, stopping for water at our well, told us in breathless tones he was coming. The one who performs miracles.
Like any other sunrise, my father and I were busy. It was just the two of us now. Mama was gone. So I would be the one to go search at first light in the wetlands. Gathering the papyrus plants. My arms wrapped around the bushels. Bringing them home. Laying them out on our stone. Stripping off the stems.
My father would rise from his sleep. Smile at my work. And after we’d eat the morning meal, my father would cut the sticky insides into strips, bind them together into one flat surface. Sprinkling water on the sheets to hold them straight and firm. Pounding them flat and clear. Ready for all who know how to make the stories into symbols scratched on the product of our work. My father and I. We made the papyrus plants become a place to hold stories.
My father knew my gift. It was the same as my curse. I was one of those who remembered everything. Every breeze, every smile, every unsaid sorrow. I remembered.
Watching my father and the other men, I learned to make the stories into symbols scratched on our papyrus. I was curious. But I also knew that my father’s eyes were growing weaker with each passing season. So I became the girl who scratched the symbols on the papyrus. I became the one who made the stories last.
Like the night Jesus and his wife came to visit. As I huddled small next to the door, I scratched what I heard on the papyrus we had finished making just that morning. I wrote “Jesus said, my wife . . ..” and as he paused, my papyrus ripped, just a bit---but I could go back and fix that later. I had to catch every word he tossed out. This was the great Jesus. So as Jesus continued, I kept scrawling. Jesus continued. “My wife. She is tending to the animals. Just outside. She will join us momentarily.” Jesus smiled. I could feel the smile as if another gentle fire had lit the room. “My wife is the mother to every animal she sees. They know her like they know the morning sun.”
The men in the circle nodded. Not knowing why the woman would be joining the circle. But understanding that this was the great Jesus. Unanswered questions were all we knew. Questions like, why in this circle, were there both Jew and Gentile? That didn’t happen. That simply didn’t happen.
We had all heard the stories of Jesus. But tales of his wife were scarce. Some doubted she existed. Perhaps doubt was the constant thread that ran through the men around the circle? Perhaps doubt was the stone upon which this faith they spoke of was built? Because they all talked a lot about this faith. But no one seemed sure what it meant.
Perhaps the wife of the great Jesus would know the answer to some of my questions.
Might my first question be, when I would run like a wild night wind through the streets of the village, my long dark legs soaring, my skin glistening, heart pounding, black hair flying; I would catch every boy and man’s eye. Some of them lingering with something like a hunger. What is that hunger?
And just as I wondered how she’d answer, she walked calmly, smiling through my father’s door, filling the room with her presence. As if there was air newly breathed. She spoke greetings to each man in the circle, Jew and Gentile alike. Each man showing the surprise that she’d included every man. Ending her greeting to the circle with, “And I bid welcome to your wives, your daughters, your mothers, I bring greetings especially to the women whose job it is to love the world.”
Then they all sat down around the fire. The men began to speak. It seemed to go on well into the night. But I had no sense of time. Perhaps it went on for centuries. Jesus mostly listened. His wife listened too. Both of them making the listening come alive as if it were a living, breathing animal.
Deep in the night, the talk turned to asking Jesus questions. All the while I kept putting what everyone said on my papyrus. The affairs of the village. The world beyond the village. Again and again, I heard “What’s next?” and “What if . . ..?”
Towards the first light of dawn, as my writing hand began to go numb, I remembered that none of my own questions had been answered. Perhaps that is the lot of the young girl.
And just as I had that thought, she stood up, Jesus followed, and she turned from the circle to me. Just to me. In her eyes I could see the coming sorrow. But in her voice I could hear her laugh. A laugh as real as the water in our well. A laugh that when I thought back, had been the music of this one desert night. And flowing from that laughter and the eyes of coming sorrow, she looked straight at me, no one else, just at me, and she said,
“You my young and abundantly alive girl who preserves the stories, my mother of the words, you already know that Jesus, now my husband, really only has one prayer and one message. That being love one another. And you my girl, will remember me telling you I love you this night. You will remember that and you will tell others who come after you that I love them too. Our God has made two halves to one whole in man and woman. But there will be times when woman becomes invisible. So I count on you young girl, to always, always, always, raise your voice and tell your story.”
When she finished, she looked at me hard, and again in her love I saw the coming sorrow in her eyes. So knowing it was dawn, knowing she and Jesus were on their way, I took the last moment of the time I had and asked her,
“What,” I asked the wife of Jesus, “what will be the hardest part? When the times of suffering, of loss, of hunger and poverty and of love’s very end seemingly upon us, what will be the hardest part?"
And the wife of Jesus took my face in her hands and then she gently touched the papyrus sheet, that I had clutched tight to my heart. And with her hands on the papyrus covering my heart, she said to me, “For you, I will answer that question now. Then the answer will remain. And 2,000 years from now, the voice of an angel will sing the answer again and all will be reminded of the very same answer.
Here is that answer. Here it is for you. And forever.
In those times of greatest loss, the hardest part is knowing you’ll survive.”
She looked at me. I nodded. Said nothing.
And having given me my answer, she was gone.