Jesus wanted to install love as the only law supporting the structure of human community. For that to happen a big problem would have to be solved.
Love, by its very nature, is focused on another person.
Law, by its very nature, is focused on the community as a totality of all persons.
When a person loves, that person is always focusing on another person: the mother on her child, the spouse on the husband, the boy on a girl. The more concrete that loves becomes, the sharper the focus will be. As far as love becomes incarnate in matter, it even becomes exclusive. This exclusiveness militates against the universal Love-as-Law. Is there a solution?
Jesus comes with a drastic answer: cut out the genitals, mutilate yourself by a kind of castration. He calls that: making yourself into a eunuch. Eunuch is not a nice word; you get the feeling that his enemies had called him by that name. But he accepted the term of abuse because in some way it was an accurate description of something difficult to understand.
A eunuch in Jesus’s time had been castrated by the owner of a harem so that he could let him mingle freely with the women of the household without the danger that he would seduce any one of them. So, by cutting out the genital phase of love, one can gain for oneself a much easier access to persons of the other sex, Is this realistic?
Yes, there are many examples of a loving relationship without genitality. Take the brother/sister, or brother/brother, or sister/sister relationships. Because the genital dimensions are cut out, these relations begin to look like eunuch-relationships. In fact, practically all our friendly relationships blossom without a genital aspect coming in;
For many Christians the appreciation of sexual relations comes from philosophical values that are very different from those of the Jews. In many gentile cultures people were invited to think that the world was built up from two principles: Good and Evil. This dualism teaches that spirit is considered to derive from the Good God, whereas matter is considered to be the product of the Evil God. Thus sexuality has an impure origin. This view has overwhelmed the church, from Platonistic thinkers to Neo-Manicheists like St. Augustus, and into the medieval devotional world.
I have been educated to see clearly that the world of sex was an unclean world. The sex organs were found in an area of the body where faeces and urine soiled the body. St. Bernard is quoted as saying: “Inter faeces et urinam nascimur.” Sexual jokes are called dirty jokes, sexual thought filthy thoughts, sexual desires impure desires, the list is endless. These are, in fact, prejudices. But it is impossible to get rid of them
For dualists it is very rewarding to present themselves as celibates. They are like spiritual athletes: they have achieved an almost impossible feat for which they should be honoured and rewarded. When pressed, they will admit that sex is good, but “no-sex” is holier.
All this would have meant little if anything to people like Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The way of the eunuch celibate ran in a different direction. The eunuch goes for safer access to the female world; the holy ascetic goes for greater avoidance of the female world. The eunuch is for freer contacts, the ascetic is for maximum avoidance. The eunuch will say: sex is good, but ”no-marriage-possible” will give easier access to a large number of women.
Both positions make a universal Love-Law possible, and in that way they solve Jesus’s problem. But the differences are enormous. The ascetics avoid particular women and particular attachments, (in my seminary years we were warned against particular friendships) and replace them with spiritual love, universal love. I suspect however that this is a caricature of real love. The eunuch on the other hand can enter into particular friendship relations, the more the merrier; the friends become like jolly sisters to him. Jesus was lucky to have them; and when his male friends had run away from him, his women friends stood under the cross, shared his shame and were ready to bury the body of the person they loved so much.
There is something else that needs to be mentioned. Jesus says that some people make themselves into eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom. So, being a eunuch opens up possibilities of building up the kingdom that otherwise would not have been there. That puts the celibate eunuch under an obligation to do something very special for the Lord, something he could not have done had he married, and that justifies therefore the act of auto-mutilation. This act will lead to frustrations; these should be counterbalanced by epic gospel deeds.
This contrasts with the ascetical celibate. For him celibacy is an achievement in itself: he has liberated himself from the low grade world of sexuality. This needs no follow-up, except that it should be preserved. In that sense the ascetic celibate is not a eunuch for the sake of the possibilities it creates for the Kingdom, but for the sake of perfecting himself.
Many celibates say that they treasure celibacy in as far as it makes them share the life style of Jesus, who was not married. But there was more to his life style than not being married. Jesus’s life style means: allowing yourself to be surrounded by women who travel along with you; and having a close loving relationship to a Mary Magdalene and a Martha, and perhaps several more. This is a thought that may make the hairs of spiritual directors to stand on end.
It would seem obvious that auto-mutilation can never be prescribed by law.
The way of the eunuch affects community formation. A human person needs company. In the old religious story of the Bible this was even the first reason why God created men and women. So, in order that a normal human community may exist, men and women need each other’s presence, for the sake of companionship, of cooperation and lastly for the sake of procreation. The athletic celibates shun the company of the other sex, and so create a mono-sexual community. Our religious communities are usually mono-sexual. In a clerical community all the normal members are male; females are abnormal, with everything that belongs to the female world. Why abnormal? Because, they are female. All encounters with females get sexual overtones. Thus sexism is promoted. Many women feel uncomfortable with this sexual supercharging. Athletic celibacy thus becomes a contributing factor for clericalism. This definitely is not the way of Jesus.