Tag Archives: John the Evangelist

Direct experience and integrity (1 John 1:1-2:3 )

The opening of John’s Gospel (“In the beginning was the word”) is familiar to many of us. The opening of the first letter of John, which is the first reading for today’s Mass, on the feast of John the Evangelist is less familiar, although it begins in similar manner (“Something which has existed since the beginning”).

English: St John the evangelist
English: St John the evangelist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Continue reading Direct experience and integrity (1 John 1:1-2:3 )

John, the (Queer) Evangelist.

The Gospel of John is of particular interest to queer people of faith for its repeated references to the “beloved disciple”, or to “the disciple that Jesus loved”. These references make clear that whoever he was, this disciple had a relationship with Jesus of particular intimacy. There’s the well-known scene from the Last Supper where he rests his head on Jesus’ breast (or lap), and at the crucifixion, he is the only man standing among the women at the foot of the cross. He is the one to whom Christ entrusts the care of his mother – rather as a surviving spouse in marriage would assume some responsibility for the care of a mother-in-law. The existence of this special relationship  provides much of the argument for the proposition that Jesus’ sexual orientation may have been what we call “gay”.

The beloved disciple is not explicitly named, but is often assumed to be John himself. I have written before on these lines, using “John, the Beloved Disciple” as a jumping off point for a reflection on the gay Jesus:

For gay men in particular, combining this thought in our prayer with a recognition of Jesus’ full bodily humanity can be a powerful entry into building that important personal relationship with him in our spiritual lives.
……….
The significance for us of John as “the disciple Jesus loved”, goes way beyond the possibility of genital activity. Love is primarily an emotional relationship, not a physical one.  The English language does us a disservice in using “lovemaking” as a euphemism for the physical act, even without any deep emotional significance. “Loving”, in its full sense is more important than mere “lovemaking” as a physical act. In this sense, we know without any possible doubt that the words “whom Jesus loved” are true.  How do we know it? Because they are true for all the disciples, as they are for each of us, and for all others.

But this does not do full justice to the importance of John himself. He may not, after all, be the person described. (Theodore Jennings, who has written most extensively on the subject, believes he is not). In any case, focussing on Jesus in the relationship ignores John, whose feast day it is. There are other reasons for thinking of John the Evangelist as queer.

 After Jesus had left the earth, John had a further notable and intimate (at least emotionally so) relationship with  another male disciple, this time younger than he – his disciple and scribe, Prochorus, bishop of Nicomedia. (Prochorus in turn, later formed a fresh relationship of his own with a younger man, Irenaeus,)

John the Evangelist, with his scribe Prochorus

Then there’s the nature of John’s Gospel itself. Even the most cursory comparison of the four Gospels notes that it stands apart from the other three. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke share a common perspective and so are called the “synoptic” Gospels. That of John is quite different. It is often noted that gay men, as social outsiders, offer a unique view and special insight on the world and social relationships, possibly explaining the high proportion of gay men among the most acclaimed writers and artists in human history. This Gospel is written from the perspective of the beloved disciple – John states clearly that it is written from his witness. Even if John is not himself the beloved disciple, it is notable that it is in his Gospel, and not the Synoptics, that this relationship is recorded. Is this because, being gay himself, John saw something with his queer view (his “gaydar”) that the others did not? In his commentary on John (in The Queer Bible Commentary), Robert Goss describes it unambiguously as the queerest Gospel, because it as a coming out story – that of God coming out, through Christ, to his people, because it is in John that Christ is presented as most gender fluid.

Finally, let us recall again that in medieval Northern Europe, there was even a long-standing tradition that John and Christ were the bridal couple at the Cana Wedding Feast. This image of a marriage between Christ and John reminds us that in the mystical tradition of the Church, the established image of the Christian as the spouse of Christ is available to gay men, as “bridegrooms of Christ“, just as much as it is to women, as “brides of Christ”.

John, the queer Evangelist, is a powerful reminder to us as LGBT people that Christ numbered among his close followers and leaders of the church, people whose emotional and sexual lives did not conform to the conventional stereotypes of the day. In addition to John, we have the examples of Martha and Mary, of Lazarus (who is also named as a possible claimant to the title “beloved disciple”), Philip the Ethiopian Eunuch, and the Roman centurion. We too, likewise have a claim to be fully included in the modern Church, and to take any leadership roles for which our talents equip us.

(For a superb selection of visual representations of John, or of John and Jesus together, see Kittredge Cherry’s post at Jesus in Love blog).

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St John the Evangelist, the “Beloved Disciple”: December 27th

In the catalogue of “gay saints”, or pairs of supposedly “gay lovers” in Scripture, the coupling of John the Evangelist (the “beloved disciple”)  and Jesus himself is surely the most controversial. Many people, including some of my friends from the LGBT Soho Masses, find the whole idea that this may have been a “gay”, sexually active relationship, highly offensive. Others argue the opposite case.

In an explosive book, “The Man Jesus  Loved”,  the reputable biblical scholar Theodore Jennings mounts an extended argument that Jesus himself was actually gay and that the beloved disciple of John’s Gospel was Jesus’ lover.  To support this provocative conclusion, Jennings examines not only the texts that relate to the beloved disciple but also the story of the centurion’s servant boy and the texts that show Jesus’ rather negative attitude toward the traditional family: not mother and brothers, but those who do the will of God, are family to Jesus.  Jennings suggests that Jesus relatives and disciples knew he was gay, and that, despite the efforts of the early Church to downplay this “dangerous memory” about Jesus, a lot of clues remains in the Gospels.  Piecing the clues together, Jennings suggests not only that Jesus was very open to homosexuality, but that he himself was probably in an intimate, and probably sexual, relationship with the beloved disciple.
Daniel Helminiak, Sex and the Sacred

I find Jennings’ argument (as summarised by Helminiak)  fascinating, and look forward to reading the full exposition, and other views. Personally, I agree that Jesus was certainly “queer”, in the sense that he was plainly a sexual non-conformist who did not conform to the social expectations of the time. It must be true that, as “fully human”, he must have experienced sexual feelings. Even in Jewish society, if he had indeed given expression to these with another man, this would not have been exceptional:  as long as he did not contravene that Leviticus prohibition on lying with a man “as with a woman”  – i.e. with anal penetration. I also take it is true that he was clearly gay – friendly, as is clear from the story of the centurion, his words abut Eunuchs, and (possibly) his friendship with Martha Mary and Lazarus. So, to say Jesus and John were possibly sexually intimate lovers is to me not shocking, indeed possible – but also irrelevant.

The significance for us of John as “the disciple Jesus loved”, goes way beyond the possibility of genital activity. Love is primarily an emotional relationship, not a physical one.  The English language does us a disservice in using “lovemaking” as a euphemism for the physical act, even without any deep emotional significance. “Loving”, in its full sense is more important than mere “lovemaking” as a physical act. In this sense, we know without any possible doubt that the words “whom Jesus loved” are true.  How do we know it? Because they are true for all the disciples, as they are for each of us, and for all others.
One of the reasons I believe it is helpful to reflect on the saints is to see them as role models, that is, to try to imagine ourselves in their place, to try to follow their example. If we do this, actively imagining ourselves in the place of John, the beloved disciple, we may more easily see ourselves as we really are – beloved ourselves.
This is important fo all followers of Christ, but is even more important for us as lesbigaytrans Catholics and other Christians, who so often find ourselves under attack by those in the churches who really should know better. When we find ourselves under attack, on the receiving end of hate it is important to remember that this comes from human institutions, not from Christ himself – for whom we are all “the disciple(s) whom he loved.”
There is one more reason to look to John as a role model.  In addition to the beloved disciple, he is more widely recognized as an evangelist: and a very special evangelist.  Now, evangelism is not just a task that ended with the writing of the Gospels, nor is it a task that we can leave to the missionaries and professional clergymen (or women).  We all have a responsibility to assist in the evangelization process, spreading and interpreting God’s word as proper to our circumstances.  We should use the example of St John as inspiration to us to do just that. Now note more important feature.  As an evangelist, John is the outsider. The other three wrote the synoptic Gospels, largely in narrative format, and largely agreeing with each other.  John wrote something different, something more reflective and interpretative, not the “same old story” as the others.  As gay men and lesbians, we too are outsiders. As outsiders, we necessarily see things a little differently, and it is not surprising that so many of us have made names as artists: in literature, music or visual arts.   Artists are widely recognized as interpreters of society, so it is not far-fetched to see John in this sense as the “artist” among the evangelists.  We do not need to see Jesus and John as being “gay lovers” to find value thinking of John, at least, as “gay”, as the artist, the outsider.
If  also, we find the idea of their (possible) physical lovemaking helpful to our own personal prayer life, that is good too. But if it does not lead to richer prayer, discard it as irrelevant.
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