Why was Jesus male? Why was He born of a woman?
The simplistic answer to the second question would be because that is the way that all humans come into the world. But since it is God who made us, why did He make us male and female, and give the feminine the capacity for birth?
Our bodies matter. We are not Gnostics or Manichees who believe that matter is evil and that we need to have our spirits liberated from their fleshly cages. We know we are creatures formed by God who declared our bodies “very good.”
Christians believe that God became man and dwelt among us, and who as Man sits enthroned in Heaven from whence He will come to bring forth the resurrection of bodies and the judgment. Therefore, we know that our bodies matter eternally.
If you are a Christian who is squeamish about sexual metaphor, I can only tell you to get over it and continue reading. The world has gone quite mad, and the Church needs to bring to it a counter-sexual-revolution. The ultimate reality is supra-physical and our souls are more important than our bodies, certainly, but our bodies have something to say about our souls.
In “The Theology of the Body,” John Paul II argues that “the human body has a specific meaning, making visible an invisible reality, and is capable of revealing answers regarding fundamental questions about us and our lives.” He asserts that humans were made spousal, male and female, in order to hardwire into our minds and bodies a theology of Himself – to give us an inner experience and an embodied knowledge of what it means to love and to be in a relationship which is free, life-giving, and penetrating into our souls.
(If you are single, don’t despair. So was John Paul II. The spousal meaning of the body ultimately points to something higher than physicality, and the vocation of celibacy and God-oriented love can still fully embrace that spousal meaning.)
This God-created and blessed sexuality is, again, truly understood as a “spousal meaning” of the body. This knowledge and desire to become one flesh is a powerful force in our lives and throughout history. Like a rocketship which, when directed toward heaven will reach the stars, it is designed to propel us to a greater understanding of God’s love for us and the nature of our relationship with Him. But turned inward on itself, this rocketship will only self-immolate and destroy everyone around it. Turned to heaven, we can see that our sexuality draws us to reach out to another, to pledge ourselves to another even to death, to give ourselves fully, to create new life. Male and female, as biological realities, have distinct roles within this drama which God designed to literally continue the existence of the human race.
God created us in this “very good” way for a reason. Surely the fact God created humans to create new life this way embodies something of the Ultimate meaning of life. “Sexuality” means binary. This binary reproductive reality, along with the manner in which human cultures have instinctively made promises and bind themselves until death to one another to protect and enshrine sexuality in marriage, when pointed heavenward shows us something of the God who is Other than us but desires to be united with us in a relationship of mutual, devoted-unto-death, life-producing relationship.
CS Lewis aptly observed that one of the reasons God created gender “was to symbolize to us the hidden things of God.” What hidden things? One of them, Lewis contends, is that in relation to God we are all essentially feminine – He is the one who seeks to enter into us and bestow His new life within our being. Certainly the spiritual reality is on another plane altogether from the earthly reality. God is not a sexual being. Before the Incarnation He did not have a body. But we humans are embodied spirits, or inspirited bodies, not just mere meat which has no spiritual connotations. God Himself is the one who makes the comparison between a husband and wife and Christ and the Church in Ephesians 5. John Paul II says in effect our bodies are a sacrament – an embodiment of a spiritual reality.
God is revealed to us in Scripture in masculine terms. He is our “Father”, Christ is our “Husband.” He is the one who gives life to us as Creator, and gives a new life to us as our Husband. Some people complain about over-emotional Jesus-is-My-Boyfriend style songs in worship, but certainly is would make far less sense to have Jesus-is-My-Girlfriend type songs! Jesus is not the Bride of the church. God is not our “Mother” (though He does say that His care for us exceeds even the nurturing embrace of a mother).
God is revealed to us in masculine terms. But the Church is revealed to us in feminine terms. She is the Bride of Christ. In this sense, Mary is the “icon” or representative embodiment of the church, as she was the first person to say “Yes” to Jesus entering into her and subsequently bringing Him forth to the world. The Church is by definition those who have said “Yes” to Jesus entering into them and then sharing Him with the world. As Jesus’ embryonic body was literally nourished and given form by the flesh of Mary, the church now embodies Christ to a fallen world. The metaphors become entangled, though: Christ enters into Mary by the Holy Spirit and is made man, yet she enfleshes Him; the Church receives Christ’s body in the Communion meal, and embodies Him – who is yet embodied in Heaven – to the world, as we are “members of His body.” A mysterious “one flesh” union has taken and continues to take place between the Church and Christ. The analogies are not perfect, but they are powerful at the very root of our being, and the roles cannot be reversed.
Ultimately, God’s fatherhood and Christ’s role as Husband are the manifestations of God’s pure love for us. His love is not a grotesque domineering desire for self-glorification at the expense of His bride. Everything He does is to bring His bride into further glory and benefit. Our role is to yield to the blessings God wishes to bestow.
CS Lewis wrote:
“Gender is a reality, and a more fundamental reality than sex. Sex is, in fact, merely the organic adaptation to organic life of a fundamental polarity which divides all created beings. Female sex is simply one of the things that have feminine gender; there are many others, and Masculine and Feminine meet us on planes of reality where male and female would be simply meaningless. Masculine is not attenuated male, nor feminine attenuated female. On the contrary, the male and female of organic creatures are rather faint and blurred reflections of masculine and feminine. Their reproductive functions, their differences in strength and size, partly exhibit, but partly also confuse and misrepresent, the real polarity.”
So why must Jesus have been a male? Without being impious, I think I may say that as human, Jesus is the true Icon of the yieldedness of which CS Lewis spoke and called “feminine”, for He was a human being fully in loving surrender to God. He embodies this surrender perfectly regardless of whether male or female. Yet only as male could He also be the Icon of the Father to us: “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” Jesus is both the representative human who yields perfectly and completely to God, being the front runner of the Bride made of men and women who yield to God, and He is also the Son of God who is the perfect masculine to be the Husband of the church.
When the Church ascends to eternal glorification in Heaven with Christ, the shadow of human sexuality will be replaced – enveloped and reborn, really – with the true urge of the human heart: to be perfectly united with God. Those who live in this world in devoted celibacy do not reject the spousal meaning of the body but point us to the heavenly reality of what sexuality really means.
As Tabor Life puts it,
“The Sacramental worldview comes to its fullness in the human person where our human sexuality is seen as an icon of the very interior life of the Holy Trinity. It is precisely through our sexuality that we are able to enter into the “Spousal Mystery” to love as God loves.” Indeed – God hardwired into our bodies and souls an intrinsic awareness of the desire to enter into communion with Himself.
All this has profound implications for how we view ourselves. It has profound implications for worship and the pastoral office. The current ethos that gender does not have a material basis and that “matter” does not matter is deeply flawed. Jesus is our ultimate hermeneutic, and by His very existence the Son of God and son of Mary has something to say to all the revolutionaries who would destroy the fabric of humanity and the sacrament of our sexuality.
For further reading:
Note: Many of the quotes in this article are from Roman Catholic sources. YieldToGod.org is not a “Roman Catholic” site.