Category Archives: Bible

LAZARUS, “THE MAN JESUS LOVED”

This morning’s Gospel tells the story of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead, a familiar tale – too familiar, perhaps, as it contains much that should inspire us as queer Christians, but which we can easily overlook in its over – familiarity.

The Household of Martha and Mary.

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair). (John  11: 1- 2)

These verses remind us of the nature of the household of Martha, Mary and Lazarus – three unmarried people living together in one house. What we easily overlook in the twenty-first century, is how very odd, even transgressive, this would have been to the Jews of Jesus’ day. There was overwhelming pressure on all, women and men alike, to marry and produce children. For women, there was scarcely any choice in the matter: their lives were governed by their menfolk before marriage (either fathers or brothers), and their husbands after. It is true that after a man’s death, his brother was expected to take over the care and control of his widow(s), but this scarcely seems to fit what we know of this household. Lazarus is not married himself, and there is nothing anywhere in the text to suggest that he is in command of the household – quite the reverse. In this household, it is the women who run things.

Although they are described as siblings, several scholars have noted that this could well have been a euphemism, hiding a lesbian relationship between the women, and masking the true status of the single man living with them. Whatever the precise details of the relationships, this is undoubtedly a queer (i.e. unconventional) household, which we should bear in mind as we consider the particular relationship between Jesus and Lazarus, the focus of the story.

“The Man Jesus Loves”

So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick. (John  11: 3).

The story is located in John’s Gospel, which is notable for its several references to the “beloved disciple”. Robert Goss notes that there is disagreement among scholars as to the precise identity of this person:

Scholars have long disputed whether the Beloved Disciple is John son of Zebedee, Thomas the Twin, Mary Magdalene, Lazarus, or a symbol of the community. For some queer writers, the evidence points to Lazarus (WilliamsWilsonGoss). Jennings does not rule out the possibility of Lazarus, but maintains that the evidence is inconclusive. Elizabeth Stuartunderstands that the Beloved Disciple to be representing perfect intimacy with Jesus.

– Goss, in The Queer Bible Commentary

Whoever the unspecified “beloved disciple ” is though, this verse is explicit that if it is not Lazarus, then he can also be so described. The next question of particular interest for gay Christians could be, “What is the nature of this love? Is it intimate, or simply platonic?”.

I cannot think of the raising of Lazarus without recalling a remarkably similar story in the non-canonical fragment known as Mark II, said to have been quoted in an epistle of Clement of Alexandria. This also tells of the raising of a young man (unidentified) from the dead. If this young man is indeed Lazarus, and if there is any basis in fact for the story, then the relationship is anything but platonic. This description of what happened next is about as explicit as it gets, without becoming x-rated:

“And they come 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 on me.’ But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway a great cry was heard from the tomb. And going near, Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and 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, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what 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 thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan.” (emphasis added)

Early Christian Writing

The Secret Gospel is non-canonical. We cannot evaluate its authenticity, but before dismissing it out of hand, we should also consider its similarity in referring to a naked young man wearing only a linen cloth, to the curious story in the canonical Gospel of Mark.

So, it is possible to read the passage as referring to an erotic relationship between Jesus and Lazarus, but even if we do not, there is an important message for us in the description of Lazarus as the one whom Jesus loved.  For if it refers only to a platonic intimacy, then that can be said to apply also to all of humanity. It is fundamental to the Christian faith that God loves all his creatures (including us queer creatures), and we known from the writers on spirituality, and also (if we are fortunate) from personal experience, that it is possible for us, 200 years later, also to develop through prayer a personal, deep relationship with him. We too, can experience what it is to be “the man Jesus loves”.

Defying the Persecutors

So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

 

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?

It is easy to forget that in this passage, Jesus was not simply returning to the friends he had left behind.  This episode occurs just a short while before the Passion. As the disciples knew, in returning to Judea, he was returning to those who wanted him out of the way, placing himself (and his associates) at substantial risk.  As queer Christians, we are often persecuted by those in control of the churches, but this is not a reason for us to stay away.

It is not just we who have experienced death inside the church. By silencing or driving away some of its members, the Church itself has experienced a form of death. It is incumbent upon us too, to go where we are needed. This includes entering right into the belly of the beast, the institutional church, and restoring it to full, inclusive life.

The Resurrection and the Life

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. (v 25, 26)

Jesus’ promise of resurrection and life, so central to Christian faith, obviously refers to the resurrection after death – but also to more. It is also a promise of a fullness of life here on earth. Individually and collectively, gay men, lesbians and transmen and transwomen often feel that they have suffered a psychic death in the Church, ignored, silenced, and written out of the approved Church histories. However, by focussing our attention on Christ and the Gospels rather than on the man-made and disordered Vatican doctrines, we too can find a fullness of life that the Church attempts to deny us, a genuine human flourishing that is the real point of the concept of “natural law”.




“Come Out”

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

Many commentators have noted the resonance of these words for modern gay men and lesbians. The modern sense, of coming out publicly in open acknowledgement of our sexual orientation, is obviously not what Jesus’ words mean, in any literal sense. However, there is nevertheless a powerful image here that is indeed applicable. In coming out of the tomb, Lazarus is emerging from darkness and death to light and life – and as metaphor, this is precisely how so many of us experience coming out. (For those of us who have come out to friends and family, but not in Church, the process is incomplete. Coming out in Church can represent a further stage in this process of moving from death to life, from darkness to life).

Most interpretations of this as a message about coming out do so with a focus on Lazarus and its obvious connections to gay men. Robert Goss quotes Mona West, who offers an interpretation from a lesbian perspective, by focussing on Martha, and her coming out as a disciple of Jesus:

<em

>She (Martha) is invited to move beyond a mere confession of faith and to accept the radical fullness of Jesus’ grace. Her conversation with him thus not only forms the theological heart of the story; it is also at the theological heart of the coming out process for Christian lesbians and gay men.

Conclusion

I am left with three overriding commands that I take away from the story of Lazarus, and Jesus’ renowned raising of him from death. Recognizing that like Lazarus, we are all beloved disciples of Jesus, we must follow Martha in accepting and reciprocating that love and grace. Doing so will give us the strength and courage to come out publicly even in the Church, and to face down those who oppose us in the name of misguided religion. This will contribute to our own healing and resurrection in a fuller life – but will also contribute new life to the Church itself.

Books:

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

Guest, Deryn et al (eds): The Queer Bible Commentary

Jennings, Theodore: the man jesus loved

Stuart, Elisabeth: Just Good Friends: Towards a Lesbian and Gay Theology of Relationships

Williams, Robert: Just As I Am: A Practical Guide to Being Out, Proud, and Christian

Wilson, Nancy: Our Tribe: Queer Folks, God, Jesus, and the Bible

Related Posts at QTC:

“Coming Out”: A Gospel Command

A Broken Church, and the Return From Emmaus

Some “#ThingsJesusNeverSaid”

A selection from Twitter:

Queering Mary Magdalene | Believe Out Loud

Many of the revolutionary women in my Holy Women Icons Projectidentify as queer in some way. Many are emboldening straight allies. And there are many whose sexuality we know nothing about. When it comes to some of the women in scripture, reading their stories through the lens of queer theory, or “queering” their stories, brings to light often overlooked elements of their narratives.

This work can affirm, welcome, and empower queer folks when many churches still use the Bible as a bludgeon to exclude us.

Such is the case with the intrepid Mary Magdalene. But before her story, I think it’s important to briefly review how “queer” is a lived lens through which to read scripture.Source:  

Source: Believe Out Loud

Parable of the Gay Samaritan

Today’s Gospel reading (Luke 10: 25 -37) tells us the familiar story of the Good 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.”

“No More Distinctions” – ALL Are One.

Today’s second reading:

Galatians 3:26-29 

You are, all of you, sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. All baptised in Christ, you have all clothed yourselves in Christ, and there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Merely by belonging to Christ you are the posterity of Abraham, the heirs he was promised.
To this we could add, no more distinctions between gay and straight, between cis and trans – all are one in Christ Jesus.

After the Darkness, a Great Light (Isaiah 9:1-7)

At this time of year, Christians can do well to look back, Janus like, at the past year, and simultaneously to look ahead. We look back on the calendar year, and the great advances in secular marriage equality symbolized by the USA Supreme Court judgement and the Irish popular referendum success, and to the Catholic Bishops’ Synod Assembly on marriage and family. That synod did not do anything concrete to improve the position of lesbian and gay Catholics directly, but in what was not said, and in the tone of the discussions, it is clear that as we look ahead at the start of the calendar year, improvements in pastoral practice are clearly on the way, at least in some parts of the world. Those improvements in turn will spread, and in time lead to a continuing evolution in doctrine itself.

Against this background, the words from Isaiah for the first reading of the Christmas midnight Mass have profound relevance and resonance for us.

The people that walked in darkness
has seen a great light;
on those who live in a land of deep shadow
a light has shone.
You have made their gladness greater,
you have made their joy increase;
they rejoice in your presence
as men rejoice at harvest time,
as men are happy when they are dividing the spoils.
For the yoke that was weighing on him,
the barb across his shoulders,
the rod of his oppressor,
these you break as on the day of Midian.
For all the footgear of battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
is burnt,
and consumed by fire.
For there is a child born for us,
a son given to us
and dominion is laid on his shoulders;
and this is the name they give him:
Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God,
Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace.
Wide is his dominion
in a peace that has no end,
for the throne of David
and for his royal power,
which he establishes and makes secure
in justice and integrity.
From this time onwards and for ever,
the jealous love of the Lord of Hosts will do this.

Biblical Scholar Maggi : “Christ, rather than uniting families broke them up …”

“I do not believe that the Church has the authority to stick its nose into family affairs.   It would be good if a Church, which has taken more than two thousand years to admit that in marriage the couple’s love is also important besides the procreation of children, kept silent on questions for which it has received no mandate from Christ”.

Biblical scholar Alberto Maggi, in an interview with the “Pacem in Terris” blog at Quotidiano 

The full Italian text may be read at the Quotidiano website.  The interview was carried on his thoughts and expectations from the synod – and after. I offer here, courtesy of the community translation at Duolingo, some choice extracts from this notable interview,:

Expectations for the synod, and the Jubilee Year of Mercy to follow:

 “I don’t expect much of the Synod”, but in the Jubilee Year of mercy called by the Pope, “I am hoping for concrete gestures in favour of the remarried, married priests and homosexuals” – three categories “humiliated and marginalised by the Church”.

On change in the Church:
Changes in the Church always come from the bottom, not from the top.   Changes are rejected, hindered and opposed by the hierarchy.   Then, after a long period of time, they are welcomed. When it is then too late”.  
Christ, and the Church:
In every situation, in every controversy you have always to keep in mind the behaviour of Christ. Every time he found himself having to choose between the obedience to Divine Law and the concrete good of man, without hesitating he always chose the latter.   Doing right for man you are certain to do right by God.”.  
The Bible and the patriarchal family  : 
What is the continuing thread that unites the Old and the New Testament on the family?
 
“There is no continuity and the message of Jesus is the least appropriate for sustaining the patriarchal family.  Christ, rather than uniting families broke them up …”  And Jesus invited people to free themselves, for his sake and that of the Gospel, even from the closest family ties, such as those between husband and wife, parents and children”.
Catholic Church family teaching and the Bible
“I do not believe that the Church has the authority to stick its nose into family affairs.   It would be good if a Church, which has taken more than two thousand years to admit that in marriage the couple’s love is also important besides the procreation of children, kept silent on questions for which it has received no mandate from Christ”.
 
Denial of sacraments:
The contradiction is glaring between a Church which rightly claims the mandate of Christ to be able to pardon sinners, but then is incapable of giving pardon to one, who with the first marriage failed, attempts a new union. The Church absolves murderers but not divorced and remarried persons.   I hope that in this year of mercy there will be concrete gestures in favour of three categories of people humiliated and marginalised by the Church – married priests, homosexuals, the divorced.   It is not just a question of mercy, but of justice.   
There is surely little need for further comment from me.

Irony of Ironies: Vatican Doctrine Confused With “The Lord’s Teaching”

A conservative Catholic blogger is gleefully reporting that “This cardinal sees no reason to expect the Family Synod to be outside Church teaching”.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. There’s never been any serious suggestion, from any side, that changing teaching was even up for discussion. (Change in teaching must and will come, later – but not yet). For now, a change in teaching is just not what the Synod is about. What it is about, is a more sensitive pastoral application of that teaching, a different matter entirely.

But there’s a more serious problem with this report, and Cardinal    Raúl Vela Chiriboga’s words. I quote:

“The Church is the depository of the faith, and that faith is the teaching of Jesus: we can’t go against his commandment,” the emeritus Archbishop of Quito explained Aug. 14 to CNA in Piura, where he was participating in Peru’s Tenth National Eucharistic and Marian Congress as an envoy of the Holy Father.

“There are fundamental truths” that will not change, Cardinal Vela said, even “by more news outlets stirring things up by saying things contrary to, or wanting to misinterpret, what the Lord commands.”

Do you see the problem? He’s assuming that because “the Church” is the depository of the faith, then it’s teaching is the teaching of Jesus. However – the “Church” is much, much more than the Vatican bureaucrats who define Church doctrine. It should be patently obvious to anybody who cares to look, that what the Vatican pronounces, on masturbation, on sex before marriage, on remarriage after divorce, or on loving and committed same – sex relationships, is simply NOT what ordinary, faithful and practicing Catholics believe. To claim Vatican doctrine on sexual ethics as what “the Church” teaches, is an unjustified leap.

He is right, though, in his insistence that we cannot change fundamental truths, as taught by Jesus. The problem for him and his ilk, is that what they are fighting so hard to protect at the Synod, have nothing at all to do with what Jesus taught.

The most contentious matter before the synod, is that of communion for people who have remarried after divorce. The conservative argument is that marriage is forever, that Jesus was against divorce, and so on. Agreed.

However – even the Vatican accepts that there are circumstances in which marriages may end – which it terms “annullment”, not  divorce. That’s a matter of semantics. But the argument is not whether divorce / annulment is legitimate or acceptable. All sides agree on that. The dispute is about communion after divorce and remarriage – and on that, Jesus said nothing whatever. The Catholic rule preventing communion for those who have remarried after divorce, is a matter of pastoral practice, which can be changed – not one of doctrine, and still less the teaching of Jesus Christ. When he said at the Last Supper, “Do this, in commemoration of me”, he did NOT add the rider, “as long as you’ve not divorced and remarried”.

The second controversial matter before the synod, is the one that most concerns us – a welcome for LGBT Catholics. Again, nobody is yet suggesting that the Synod is about to change it’s own doctrines on same – sex relationships – even though it is now abundantly evident that it should. That will happen, but later. All that is being asked, is that the leaders of the Church take seriously the message of Jesus Christ (and indeed, of Pope Francis), that  “all are welcome”, and that the Church should be a “field hospital for the wounded”. On lesbian and gay people, Jesus had not a single word in opposition, and quite a lot that could be read as supportive.

The cardinal is absolutely correct that we cannot change the teaching of Jesus. The problem for him, is that it is he and his sympathisers, not those seeking more sensitive pastoral care, who are trying to do that.

.

“Jesus never shamed anyone, and he never shames us. “

From “Freed Hearts“:

The Church is Killing Its Gay Children”

The Deadly Results of Shame

July 27, 2015 by Susan Cottrell

Shame. It says, “There is something fundamentally wrong with you.” It is the lie at the very root of our identity. If I did something wrong, I can apologize and make amends. But if I am fundamentally wrong, what hope do I have?

Our greatest need is to be loved, to belong, to be accepted as we are. Shame says the exact opposite – that we do not fit in, are not acceptable as is and, fundamentally, are not lovable. Shame is the fundamental lie that keeps us separate, and it wreaks havoc in self-hatred and self-rejection.

Neither does he give us permission to shame each other. Brene Brown has done paradigm-shifting work on shame, and one particular finding about men and shame is earth-shattering.

“When looking at the traits associated with masculinity in the US, the researchers identified the following: winning, emotional control, risk-taking, violence, dominance, playboy, self-reliance, primacy of work, power over women, disdain for homosexuality, and pursuit of status. Understanding these lists and what they mean is critically important to understanding shame…” says Brene Brown.

Isn’t that a shock? “For men,” Brown says, “there’s a cultural message that promotes homophobic cruelty. If you want to be masculine in our culture, it’s not enough to be straight – you must also show an outward disgust for the gay community.”

This is a very serious situation.

Read more at Freed Hearts

*******************************************************************

My Ministry is Valuable – So Fund Me!

Me

Campaign page

Donate

e of LGBT Lives

  • WHY Our Stories Matter
  • Quest Conference 2015: “The Bible, Friend or Foe?”

    Once again, I thoroughly enjoyed our annual conference, “The Bible: Friend or Foe?”. I was stimulated by our keynote speaker, Keith Sharpe’s thoughts on the Bible and LGBT people, and moved by the personal testimony of out other guest speaker, Ruth Sharpe, chief executive of Stonewall, and her challenges in coming out as Catholic. I valued the social time, catching up with old friends, meeting new people, and getting to know in person some that I had previously known only on- line. I also thought that the strength and vigour of the organisation was amply demonstrated by the quality of discussion in the AGM, responses to the speakers, and in the report back on the Emmaus document on last year’s workshop.

     

    Our conference venue, the Hayes Conference Centre, Derbyshire
    Guest speakers, Keith Sharpe and Ruth Hunt
    Guest speakers, Keith Sharpe and Ruth Hunt

    Further posts on conference will follow, but here is a snapshot of the highlights for me, personally. Continue reading Quest Conference 2015: “The Bible, Friend or Foe?”