You’ve always heard that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, but you might be surprised to know that this is disputed among some theologians. While it’s true that Jesus never explicitly speaks about homosexuality — it was certainly commonly practiced in his day, and he would have encountered many homosexuals. In Roman sexual culture, men were free to take both male and female lovers, so long as they were in the “dominant” role. Preserving the patriarchy is what mattered, and oftentimes boys fell into the role sex-servant or prostitute. According to some progressive theologians, one bible story in particular — known as the story of the Roman centurion — sheds some light on “what Jesus would do” in such an encounter.
In both Matthew 8: 5-13 and Luke 7: 1-10, the account of the Centurion, or Roman Soldier who pleaded with Christ to heal his sick servant is told. Could it be possible that the servant was really the Centurion’s lover? Many theologians believe that the evidence is strong that this was the case. The Greek word used to describe the servant was “pais,” which translated has three possible meanings: “son”, “boy”, “servant,” or a particular kind of servant, which is a lover. Because Roman soldiers were forbidden from marriage, it was common practice for them to take a “pais” or younger male lover into their home.
There is an important distinction to be made between this sort of power-dynamic relationship that Jesus encountered and healthy gay relationships today — and no attempt should be made to equate the two, particularly in terms of the fight for equal marriage, but I digress. The question remains: what did Jesus do when he was approached by the Roman Centurion, who pleaded with him to heal his sick lover, a lover that was very much under his personal authority and control?
Jesus did not hesitate; he insisted that he should come at once to the soldier’s house and heal the servant. There were no words of judgment about the man’s sexuality or the power dynamic of the relationship. But the servant stopped him saying “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed.” Jesus healed the man’s lover at once and then proclaimed, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (Matthew 10)
Interestingly, the words spoken by the Roman Centurion are the centerpiece of the Roman Catholic Eucharistic liturgy, and are paraphrased right before Communion is shared with the Congregation. “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
While this passage is argued over by theologians, many try to point to the fact that Jesus often surrounded himself with “sinners” — such as prostitutes and tax collectors — and offered them healing and moments of grace, followed up by a command to “go and sin no more.” But this passage is quite different. Jesus holds the Roman Centurion up as a model of faith for all to follow, not as one to be forgiven of a great sin. There is no judgment of his sexuality or power-dynamic of the master/servant relationship, the unfortunate constraint of Roman laws at the time. It is the rest of Roman culture that he points to, who must take a look in the mirror. He drives home the point in the next lines of Matthew:
“I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
In other words, the people who are positive they know who is getting into heaven and who isn’t are seldom the ones who are on the right path. Jesus makes this point over and over again in the gospels and it’s arguably the topic covered the most. Those who judge others, hypocrites, and the arrogant are the ones that Jesus repeatedly chastises and warns.
Christianity is all too often used as a weapon against the LGBT community, but in the time of Christ, religion was also used as a weapon — which is how Christ famously met his end. But like the Centurion, even in his fractured and less than ideal relationship — limited by the laws of his time, LGBT people can be models of faith in their communities.
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Valency was born in San Francisco to hippie parents, but is a Chicago girl through and through. Ten years of Catholic school helped her develop a finely-tuned bullshit detector, as well as a love of all sorts of Catholic kitsch. Valency isn't fond of labels. She is, however, fond of embracing her many paradoxes, and walking the fine lines between religion and politics, with an eye turned toward postmodern religion, feminist theology, and challenging patriarchy from inside religious institutions. She lives on the northside with her two daughters and two female cats, and is always looking for more ways increase the estrogen in her household.