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”).
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.