Category Archives: New Testament

Parable of the Gay Samaritan

At his personal blog a few years ago, Fr Geoff Farrow published a post called  Delivery “Salvation”, in which he describes an encounter with two young men who came to his door attempting to deliver some salvation, in the form of a pep talk on heaven and hell. We are all familiar with the scenario. How many of us though, have the presence of mind to reply as he did, by quoting from the Gospel of Luke:
Jesus was asked about the afterlife in the Luke 10: 23-37. “Rabbi, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?” The question, by a lawyer, was prompted because there were 614 laws that an observant Jewish person was expected to keep. To break one law, was to break them all. In the rabbinic tradition of questioning/discussion this question was posited, “What does God expect of me?” “What is essential, or central?”
This question is applicable to contemporary people as well, regardless of one’s religion (or lack thereof), “What must I do to achieve my full potential, to be truly whole and at peace?”
In the rabbinic tradition, Jesus answers the lawyer’s question with two other questions. “What is written in the law [Torah/Bible]?” In addition, “How do you read it?” Incidentally, that second question is of critical importance, because our motive in reading any spiritual text, will determine its spiritual value/harm in our life.
The lawyer responded by citing a passage from Deuteronomy 6: 4-5 “Hear, Oh Israel!” that is prayed by observant Jewish people to this day, as Christians pray the “Our Father.” And Leviticus 19: 18, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus approves the lawyer’s quotes and says, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you shall live.”
Luke notes that the lawyer, “because he wished to justify himself” asked, “and who is my neighbor?” Jesus then tells the story of the Good Samaritan.
Interestingly, Samaritans were regard as being beyond any hope of eternal life since they had comingled Judaism with pagan beliefs and practices. Their theological beliefs and religious practices were seen as flawed, heretical and impious. Jesus deliberately selects a suspect minority group who were believed beyond hope of eternal life to illustrate what God expects from us. I suppose that if Jesus told this parable in the USA today, it would be the story of the Good Faggot.
 
He does not elaborate further on this idea of recasting the familiar Good Samaritan as a Good Faggot, but there is no need. It has been done before, for example by Richard Cleaver, in the introduction to his book “Know My Name“. I summarise his telling here:
Cleaver imagines a modern traveller from Jerusalem to Jericho, who is attacked by muggers and left for dead in the gutter. A bishop comes past  in his Cadillac, which had been given to him by a car dealer, one of the most generous financial supporters of the diocese. Seeing the half-dead body at the roadside, he first thought it was just a pile of litter. Realizing it was a human body, he considered stopping, but decided against: he saw that the body was naked, and feared that taking a naked man into his car might cause a scandal. So, he drove on, consoling himself that these kinds of social services were better left to the professionals.
He then describes another traveller passing by, a prominent Catholic layman. He too thought of helping the man by the wayside, but then considered the implications. If the man was already dead, it was too late for help, and he would find himself caught up in endless bureaucratic red tape. If he was not dead and recovered, there was a danger that the injured man might find a reason to sue him for any mishap en route to the hospital. There was also the problem of the man’s nakedness –  what had happened to his clothes? There was an assumption that the man obviously was not a man of god to be in that state, or must have done something to bring about his own misfortune. So he, too, went on his way.
Then a third traveller came past, a gay man returning home from his head office in Jerusalem, where he had just been fired, because someone had discovered he was gay, after his lover had beaten to death in a gay-bashing. When he saw the injured man, he immediately stopped, and was reminded of his lover’s beating and death. Realising the man was still just about alive, he applied what first aid he could, loaded him into the car and drove him to the nearest hospital.
“Later, the newspapers got hold of the story and came to interview him.  The bishop read the story and called a press conference, at which he announced that the diocese was giving its Good Samaritan Award to the man who had helped the mugging victim he himself had driven past.
At the award banquet, held at the episcopal palace, the bishop stood with this arm around the good Samaritan and gave a little homily about showing mercy to the neighbour in distress. This act, he concluded, showed a true Christian spirit. He turned to the man and shook his hand, adding, “God will bless you abundantly for this.”
“Oh, I didn’t do it for religious reasons. It just seemed to me like the human thing to do. I haven’t been to church since my priest refused me absolution when I confessed I was in love with the redheaded guy who was captain of the football team.” The gay man smiled at the cameras.
The bishop was trying to figure out how to deal with the question he knew was coming next.”

The Queer Christ: Same Sex Desire and Biblical Exegesis (Keith Sharpe)

Jesus Queer Family: the household of Martha and Mary
Jesus Queer Family: the household of Martha and Mary

This paper explores the idea of queer theory generally and queer theology specifically as a set of techniques for the radical deconstruction of all normative sexual identities and social categorisations. It is argued that these techniques resonate with the praxis of Jesus who was essentially crucified by the Jewish religious and Roman political authorities for his queerness in this sense, because in his life and teaching he subverted all the main institutional structures and taken-for-granted realities of his time in order to reveal the transcendent truth which ‘sets us free’.  Since the Bible is witness to Christ as the Word it follows that it can and should thus be read as a queer-friendly text through the lens of the queer Saviour.  Biblical exegesis should take account therefore not only of the multiple contexts of textual narratives but also the inescapable queerness of the worldview which their authors took for granted. Continue reading The Queer Christ: Same Sex Desire and Biblical Exegesis (Keith Sharpe)

Water into Wine: Jesus’s Gay Wedding at Cana.

Yesterday I dipped into two books, and found ideas that amplified  each other with powerful effect, especially in the current context of advances for marriage equality and the bishops’ opposition. “Take Back the Word” (ed Robert Goss) is a compilation of writings on Scripture designed to take us as queer Christians beyond battles with the “texts of terror”, to an approach more in keeping with what it should be, a source of inspiration and value in our lives.  “Queer Theology: Rethinking the Western Body ” (ed Gerard Loughlin) is a broader and more ambitious compilation, of writing on a range of dimensions of faith from a queer perspective.

Who was getting married?

In the introduction to his book, Loughlin reflects on the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana, (John 2: 1 – 11) which we usually think of in terms of the transformation of water into wine. Immediately I thought of this as a wonderful alternative image for Goss’s “Take Back the Word”. It is one thing for us to move beyond a fear of Scripture to a point where it is the “water” of life: but how can we go beyond even that, to the “wine” of celebration?  This, I thought, is what Elizabeth Stuart does in a short piece “Camping Around the Canon”, which (as it happens) she ends with some thoughts on weddings. Stuart’s point is that we need to be able to approach Scripture with laughter, which is too often absent from religious practice. After a concise exposition of the historical and theological justification for the approach, she offers just one illustration of what she means,  discussing Ephesians, 5:21-33 (“Wives, submit to your husbands”), which is so often used at weddings, and which for women can so easily become a text of terror. Hearing it read at weddings, she says, left her “churning with anger”. But an analysis by Gerard Loughlin changed her reaction from tragic to comic, as the “heteropatriarchal” readings are

undermined and washed away in the deeper waters of the Christian symbolic, for insofar as as women are members of the body, they too are called to be Christ to others; so that they too must also act as “groom” and “husband”; to the “bride” and “wife” of the other, whether it is to a man or woman.  For it cannot be said that within the community only men are called to love as Christ does.”

-Gerard Loughlin, “Baptismal Fluid“, unpublished paper quoted by Stuar

Stuart comments:

Loughlin’s reading of the text had transformed it into a queer text. The very incongruity of this reading with the “original” reading is enough to stimulate laughter. I find it funny that this passage should be read so often and do solemnly at weddings, the great ceremony of heteropatriarchy.

-Stuart, Camping Around the Canon, in Goss “Take Back the Word

I remember a comparable insight and laughter from my own experience. Once on retreat, I found myself reflecting on the familiar image of the Church as the bride of Christ, and realized that as a gay man, I was spared the oddity (for straight men) of imagining myself as “bride”, and instead was able to picture myself in my meditation as “groom” of Christ – a meditation that became extremely powerful. Looking  back on it later, I found satisfaction and humour in the realisation that my orientation had given me a unique advantage in my prayer.

This left me with a predisposed receptivity to Loughlin’s main ideas concerning the wedding at Cana.  Instead of considering the miracle of transformation, he asks instead, “Who is it that was married?”. He answers the question in stages.

First, he points out that the story should be read as a parable, with distinct anticipation of the Last Supper,  Passion and Resurrection. The wedding takes place on “the third day” (anticipating the resurrection) after He has talked with Nathanel (John 1:43 -51), and the transformation of water into wine anticipates the transformation of wine into His blood. In a liturgical setting, the Mass recalls these three days. So, it is a standard idea that symbolically, in the church’s recollection of the story, we are all guests at the wedding, where Christ is marrying his Church.   At one level closer to the literal, it is Christ marrying his disciples. Loughlin then goes on to discuss a fascinating more literal idea from the early and medieval church – that it was indeed Christ who was married – to John, the beloved disciple. This idea was articulated in the apocryphal Acts of John, in which it is said that John broke off his betrothals to a woman to “bind himself” to Jesus. This was apparently a common strand in some German medieval thinking, right up until the Reformation, and is visually illustrated in some surviving art.  In a  “Libellus for John the Evangelist”, a painting of the wedding feast is said to feature a bearded Christ seated next to a beardless, androgynous John – whom, says Loughlin, he appears about to kiss.  In the “Admont Codex” illustrated manuscript of  St Anselm’s “Prayers and Meditations”, an illustration in two parts shows John’s story. In one, John is seen leaving his female betrothed. In the companion piece, he is lying on the ground with this head on Jesus’s breast, while Jesus himself is tenderly caressing his chin.

Is this tradition “true”? We cannot know. Like so much much else in Scripture, it is impossible to get through the mists produced by unfamiliar language, a different literary tradition, and remote historical /cultural context to get close to the literal “truth” behind the text.   No matter. Even without accepting  this idea literally, it is enough for me to know that it was once widely accepted in the mystical tradition, and to incorporate it into my reader response.

It is when Loughlin moves beyond the “meaning” of the text to its multiple ironies that the fun starts. This where, in sympathy with Elizabeth Stuart, I found myself quite literally laughing with Scripture.  For if it is true that the consecration of Eucharistic wine into Christ’s bloods is prefigured in the Cana transformation of water into wine, then we can see that in every Mass we are commemorating  Christ’s own wedding with His (male) disciples. Every Mass can be seen as a mystical gay wedding.  That Mass is celebrated by a priest who has committed himself to celibacy, and so forswears procreation himself, but is expected to preach against gay marriage or others – because homosexual intercourse, being unable to procreate, is “intrinsically disordered“. The priesthood in turn, is run by a a similarly celibate coterie in the Vatican which reproduces itself by recruitment not biological reproduction – and castigates the homosexual community for its own social, not biological reproduction.

The threat posed by gays and lesbians to family and society is often proclaimed by men – named “fathers”- who have vowed never to to beget children. The pope lives in a household of such men – a veritable palace of “eunuchs”for Christ  – that reproduces itself by persuading others not to procreate. Why us the refusal of fecundity – the celibate lifestyle – not also a threat to family and society?

-Loughlin, introduction to “Queer Theology”

Goss, Robert (ed): Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible

Loughlin, Gerard (ed): Queer Theology: Rethinking the Western Body (BBPG)

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Was Jesus Gay? Mark, and the "Naked Young Man".

Discussion of the question “Was Jesus gay?” usually revolves around the references in the Gospel of John, to “The disciple Jesus loved.” These are well known, and have been widely discussed, here at QTC and elsewhere.  My reservations about these references are that they all come from the author of John’s Gospel, talking about himself as writer. I would be more easily convinced by the argument if there were corroborating evidence from the other Gospels:  if Matthew, or Luke, or Mark, also made the same references to one specific disciple who was “loved” in a way the others were not, andsimlarly noted how he rested his head on Jesus’ breast, or in his lap, and appeared to have inside information on Jesus thoughts and intentions – as John does.
Theodore Jennings, in “The Man Jesus Loved“, might just have some such corroborating evidence, from the Gospel of Mark, and from infuriatingly fragmentary evidence from what just might be a lost,  more extended version of that Gospel: something known as the “Secret Gospel” of Mark. In the first part of the book, Jennings offer an extensive examination of the evidence from John’s Gospel, and concludes that yes, the evidence is clear: there was indeed an unusually intimate relationship between Jesus and the author of that Gospel (whom he does not believe was in fact John). But then he continues, to look for further evidence from the other Gospels.
In Mark, he first draws our attention to a well-known passage which is seldom remarked on for homoerotic associations – the story of the “rich young man”, drawing attention to the words of the text,:
Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said….
Alone, this these words are not particularly remarkable, except that elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus is not said to “love” specific individuals outside of the “beloved disciple” of John’s Gospel. It becomes more interesting though, when read together with some other lines from Mark .  Jennings first discusses the curious matter of the “neaniskos“, or “naked young man”, in Jesus company in the Garden of Gethsemane:
And they all forsook him and fled.
And a youth (“neaniskos”) accompanied him, clothed in a linen cloth (“sindona”) over his nudity (“gumnos”).  And they seized him.  And he, leaving his linen cloth, fled nude (“gymnos”).
(Mark 14: 50 -52)
Who is this youth? What is he doing there? Why has he stayed behind, “accompanying” Jesus, after all the others have fled (at least until he is seized, and then flees, naked). Why is he so lightly clothed, that his garment can fall away so easily (the “sindoma” was not properly an item of clothing at all, but just a loose linen sheet)? And why use a word, “gymnos”  for nudity, which is strongly  associated with the homoeroticism of the Greek gymnasium – where young men exercised naked, and older men came to admire them?
But the most intriguing passage of all is found not in the standard Gospel of Mark, but in the so-called “Secret Mark”, supposedly found by Morton Smith in an eighteenth century copy of a previously unknown letter of Clement of Alexandria, found in 1958.  The authenticity is disputed,  but some scholars accept that it authentic, and is taken from an earlier, longer version of Mark’s Gospel than the one we use today.  I’m not going to get into the details of the origin or significance of this fragment  – see Jennings for that – but here is the bit that intrigues:
And they came into Bethany, and a certain woman, whose brother had died, was there.  and, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, “Son of David, have mercy upon me.”..But the disciples rebuked her.  And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightaway a great cry was heard from the tomb.  And going near Jesus rolled away a stone from the door of the tomb. And straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand nad raised him, seizing his hand.  But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him.  And going out of the tomb they came into the house of the youth, and he was rich.  And and after six days Jesus told him what he wast to do and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body.  And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God. And then, arising, he returned to the other side of Jordan.
This passage has two literary connection to the two earlier passages from canonical Mark: the verb used here for he youth “looking at “Jesus is the same (“emblepein“) as that  that used to describe Jesus when he “looked at” (and “loved”) the rich young man;  and here again, he is described as wearing just a linen cloth over his naked body.  (This is not on being raised from the dead, when such a cloth would have been expected, abut when he came to Jesus six days later.
Now, be honest:  if a young man came to you, “in the evening”, wearing “nothing but a linen cloth over his naked body”, what do you suppose he was after?  And if he came not to you, but to another man, and then stayed the night, what do you suppose your conclusion would be in the morning?
The fragment known as Secret Mark may not be authentic – but then, it may.  If so, the implications and connections to the other two passages, and to John are at least intriguing.  Is this the same rich young man who turned down the invitation to sell all and follow the Lord?  is he the same young man in a linen cloth who stayed with him after all others had fled? Is he, indeed, the “beloved disciple?”

Mary – the Annunciation and Visitation (Luke 1:26-56)

This passage, the third in the English bishops’ suggested texts for reflection on marriage as part of the consultation process for the Rome Family Synod 2015, is the familiar story of the Annunciation,  Mary’s subsequent visit to Elizabeth, and her song of praise, the “Magnificat”.  (The  text may be read  here, at Bible Gateway)

Fra Angeilico, “The Annunciation”

In my lectio divina practice, for the passage, I went through this as three distinct reflections. For each, I give the phrases that most struck me,  followed by my reasons. Continue reading Mary – the Annunciation and Visitation (Luke 1:26-56)

A Key to Romans 1 – Hiding in Plain Sight

At Bible – thumping Liberal, the straight ally and evangelical Christian Ron Goetz asks a crucially important question:

HOW DO I RECONCILE PAUL WITH MY SUPPORT FOR LGBT FOLKS?

August 27, 2013

I just got an email from Harold, one of my PFLAG friends. He asked the following question.

“How do you reconcile Paul’s words and yet support LGBTs?”

There are several good ways of approaching this question. One way looks at Paul’s specific words, what they mean and don’t mean, and then discover that Paul is not as anti-homosexual as fundamentalists make him out to be. Another way is to look at Paul as a man who was working out his theology, literally, as he went along. Another way is to see how Paul treated other issues of some disagreement, that have been puzzling or unclear to us. Finally, we can look at some of Paul’s own attitudes and interactions, and adopt some of them as our own.

-more at  Bible-Thumping Liberal.

This is important, because Paul’s words in Romans and in Corinthians are the most disturbing of all the Biblical clobber texts for lesbian and gay Christians. The story of Sodom in Genesis should not be troubling at all, as the Bible itself makes clear that the infamous “sin of Sodom” is about injustice, and pride, and has nothing whatever to do with homoeroticism. There are numerous responses to the verses in Leviticus, but the simplest one is just to note that these are part of the Jewish purity laws, like the dietary restrictions, the prohibition on clothing of mixed fibres and shaving one’s beard, and the obligation of male circumcision. As such, they simply do not apply to Christians – as we read in the Acts of the Apostles. The letters of Paul are another matter, less easy to reconcile with our experience of a same – sex affectional orientation.

So, how can we do so? In his post, Goetz goes on, to elaborate on each of these ways of looking at Paul. There is also another, simpler still: the words simply do not mean what they are popularly supposed to mean. I’ve already discussed how this is so for Corinthians, where the Greek words “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai” have been mistranslated as referring to homosexuals. (They don’t). For Romans 1, I suggest that the key is simpler still, hiding in plain sight – in the title. 

This is the letter to the Romans after all.

Hadrian and Antinous
Roman Emperor Hadrian and His Beloved, Antinous

Paul himself was a Roman citizen, and would surely have understood something of how his words would be interpreted. So let’s look at them: Continue reading A Key to Romans 1 – Hiding in Plain Sight

The (Gay) Roman Centurion and his "Boy"

In Catholic tradition, March 15th is the feast day of “Longinus”,  the name given to the Roman centurion at the crucifixion who pierced Christ’s side with his spear.  Some writers, like Paul Halsall of the LGBT Catholic Handbook, also identify him with the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his “beloved boy”, who was ill. It is this second person that I am interested in here.  In this persona, he is one of my personal favourites, as his story shows clearly how the Lord himself is completely not hostile to a clearly gay relationship, and also because we hear a clear reminder of this every time we attend Mass – if only we have ears to hear.
It may be that you do not recall any Gospel stories about a gay centurion and his male lover, but that is because cautious or prudish translators have softened the words of the text, and because the word “gay” is not really appropriate for the historical context. You are more likely to know as the story as the familiar one of the Roman centurion and his “servant” – But this is a poor translation. Matthew uses the word “doulos“, which means slave, not a mere servant.  Luke uses quite a different word, “pais“, which can mean servant boy – but more usually has the sense of a man’s younger male lover – or “boyfriend”.Whichever of the two words or their senses was intended by the authors, the conclusions we should draw are the same. If “pais”  was intended here to indicate a lover, the conclusion is obvious.  If the intended meaning was either “slave ” or “servant” – the conclusion does not significantly change. To see this, let us consider the cultural context. For three centuries before Christ, the Jews had been under foreign military occupation, first by the Greeks (which is why demotic Greek had become lingua franca across the region, and was the language of the New Testament), then by Romans. These military overlords were about as well liked as any other military invaders anywhere – which is not at all.  The Jews hated them – but will have been quite familiar with Greek and Roman cultural (and sexual) practices.

continue reading

Scripture As Hope: Romans 15:4-9

For too long, LGBT people have suffered under Biblical textual abuse, with our opponents brandishing a handful of cherry – picked scriptural texts as weapons to accuse and condemn us, It is not surprising then, that so many of our community view the Bible with suspicion, or even reject it entirely, and with it very often, all religious faith and practice. But this abuse is a gross distortion of what scripture is all about, as the second reading for today, the second Sunday of Advent (year A) makes clear:

scripture as hope

“Gospel” derives from “Godspell”, that is “good news” – and the hope and good news apply as much to gay, lesbian and trans Christians as to any other:

Everything that was written long ago in the scriptures was meant to teach us something about hope from the examples scripture gives of how people who did not give up were helped by God. And may he who helps us when we refuse to give up, help you all to be tolerant with each other, following the example of Christ Jesus, so that united in mind and voice you may give glory to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  It can only be to God’s glory, then, for you to treat each other in the same friendly way as Christ treated you. The reason Christ became the servant of circumcised Jews was not only so that God could faithfully carry out the promises made to the patriarchs, it was also to get the pagans to give glory to God for his mercy, as scripture says in one place: For this I shall praise you among the pagans and sing to your name.
Romans 15:4-9
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Dec 26th: St Stephen, Martyr (Acts 6:8-10,7:54-59)

Today we remember St Stephen, the first martyr. Just as Stephen some of his hearers who disliked his words, but could not counter the truth of what he said, were “infuriated and ground their teeth at him“. Stephen, however persisted in proclaiming the truth – and paid the price.

Martyrdom of Stephen The_Stoning_of_St_Stephen_-_1603-04

Countless gay men, lesbians and trans people have similarly encountered anger, hatred and violence  for living lives of sexual or gender honesty, and even more for speaking publicly about the morality and integrity of our lives. Continue reading Dec 26th: St Stephen, Martyr (Acts 6:8-10,7:54-59)

"Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord" (Luke 1:67-79)

In today’s Gospel, I see two key take-aways from the words of Zechariah, father of John the Baptist:

One is a reminder that the promise of the Lord that he “that he would save us from our enemies and from the hands of all who hate us” applies to all his people – and that most certainly includes those of us who experience hatred and discrimination in church, allegedly but spuriously in the Lord’s own name.

Another is implied in Zechariah’s words to his son, the instruction to “prepare a way for the Lord”. He is speaking here directly to his son, John the Baptist, but the words are equally applicable to all of us. It is not enough simply to wait passively for the Kingdom of God: it is incumbent on all of us to prepare the way in our own communities, spreading the word that the Kingdom applies to all, excluding none:.

Continue reading "Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord" (Luke 1:67-79)