Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Centurion's servant-son-partner

I'm pretty easygoing about most stuff but I do kinda get annoyed when I hear people making great leaps of thought that leave them to wrong conclusions. In this case, the great leap of thought has to do with the Christian gay community's assertion that Jesus blessed the union between the centurion and his servant.

The gay christian movement are Bible believers who want to prove, by using the Bible, that God blesses homosexual relationships. I can understand this. If one is a true Bible believer, it must be definitely devastating to love God and yet to feel that God doesn't approve of one's beloved. So if I were gay and a Bible-believer I'd be trying to do what the Gay evangelical movement is doing: trying to prove that Jews and Christians throughout the ages have misunderstood the Bible. But I don't have an agenda to prove. My only agenda is sane exegesis. So whenever I hear gay Bible theology, I feel I'm being asked to believe a bunch of desperate crock.

Among the crock is: A) the sin of Sodom was really hospitality, B) Jesus and the beloved disciple were lovers and C) Jonathan and David were lovers.
It takes a lot of wishful thinking to prove that every reference to homosexuality in the Bible is really only about Baal worship.
And the fact that Jesus' opponents -- the pharisees and Judas-- didn't once hint that JEsus and the beloved disciple were getting it on does seem odd, since the Pharisees would surely have used that bit of information to hang Jesus with. And let's consider the fact that the beloved disciple is the only one who calls the beloved disciple the beloved disciple, (and heck I'm Jesus' beloved disciple too). (One gay priest who used to serve at my local episcopal church and who is pretty big in the movement now was so on the warpath that I began to think that all of his sermons revolved around his penis. And yes, he had several books and gave several sermons about Jesus and the apostle John being lovers. Like several of my gay friends he was adopted and had bonding issues with his parents. I don't think he can imagine loving a heterosexual Jesus.)

About Jonathon and David. Tons of middle eastern poetry and figures of speech have this kind of praise of warrior-brothers "love." Gay Christians should check the war poetry of the time and realize that Israel is part of a regional culture. Their historical writing style and their poetry has similarities to other poems and warrior epics of that region.

Plus if gay Christians are going to say that David was in love with Jonathan, why don't they go all the way and say that it looks that David's lust for Bathsheba shows he obviously was healed of his homosexuality later on in life?

Or at least admit that gay folks can be attracted to folks of the other sex? David so wanted Bathsheba that he betrayed his good friend just for a night with her.

But moving past those examples:

I had never heard this particular Centurion thing before. (Mercifully, after the aforementioned priest went on to higher things, I was relieved from keeping up on gay theology.) But the assertion of Jesus blessing a same-sex relationship revolves around the word "pais" which, they argue, is a word everyone in the Greek world and Roman Empire would've known was the word for a same-sex partner. Know what? I'll agree with far as that goes. I always wondered why one gospel writer (Luke 7:2) declares the "a servant" was dear to him --"pais" to him. (Matthew 8:5) called him a "servant" but doesn't mention the pais part. Although I'm still not really convinced the centurion was homosexual, I'm not deeply invested in him not being gay. So for argument's sake, I'll accept it. With a few caveats.

The modern term "gay" is a construct not really known in the old world. When modern folks use the word, they mean a person who solely has same sex relationships with adults. By such a definition, Alexander the Great would not be "gay." Nor for that matter would Oscar Wilde. Back in the day, the person who only solely had relationships with a same sex adult was not common. Alexander the Great was greatly in love with his wife AND his adult male friend/lover. Oscar Wilde fell in love with youths and deeply loved his wife.

Pedophilia in the form of pederasty was fairly accepted back in the Roman Empire. Not homosexuality per se because it was considered unmanly if two adult men sexually loved each other. (Consider that the curse that befell the house of Oedipus began because King Laius simply would not give up his boy lover when the kid got older and Laius was in love with him, an unseemly thing to do he kidnaped and raped him. Everyone descended from Laius had love issues after that. Falling in love with a bull, a mom, not falling in love, falling in love with a son-in-law.) So yeah, certain kinds of homosexual relationships were okay....if a man had a young boy lover, that is. And if he had a homosexual relationship with a man, (Hercules for instance) he dang well had better have a wife. But for the most in the Greek and Roman empires homosexual relationships between two adult males were frowned upon. Only pedophilia was acceptable.

I'll also trust their historical finding that the emperor had put a ban on certain centurions having heterosexual marriages. But I don't believe in their conclusion.

They say that Jesus blessed the homosexual relationship. Uh? Where did they see that? First of all, in Luke's version of the story the servant is dying and Jesus DIDN'T meet the Centurion personally. In Matthew's version, the servant is paralyzed, in pain but not dying and brings the Centurion DOES meet with Jesus. The question is: "Whose version is right?" If Matthew doesn't mention the "pais" part, presumably he thought that kinda thing just wouldn't fly with his readers. If Luke mentions the "pais" bit, he probably thought his readers would understand the situation and not really care. And why do the gay theologians collapse both versions? Either it's just a regular servant and the Centurion meets Jesus, or it's a pais and the Centurion meets Jesus. Matthew had his agenda: to prove that Jesus was king and the one who would bring in Israel's kingdom. Luke had his agenda: To show that Jesus was the savior of all humans. Matthew was a disciple of Jesus. He walked with Jesus. Presumably he saw what was going on first hand. Luke, on the other hand, heard the story second-hand after research. But if we're going to use a Bible verse to prove any kind of human agenda, we better know what we're doing.

There are two people in the Bible whom Jesus healed whom Jesus didn't meet personally. One was the the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman. The other was the Centurion. The daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman was not in town. The Centurion was. So why didn't Jesus go to meet this man of great faith? Luke tells us that when Jesus was "Not far from the house" the Centurion sent friends to tell him not to come. Hey, the man had great faith and Jesus wasn't far from the man's house. Yet, Jesus didn't go to the man's house to see him. At least not in Luke's version. Certainly should make a gay theologian wonder...

In Luke's version we can begin to understand why the Centurion is so aware of his "unworthiness." We can see why he sent wave after wave of people to plead to Jesus for his dying friend. I mean, first he sent the elders of the synagogue, then he sent his friends. I wonder why the Gay movement doesn't examine the meaning of the word "unworthy" with as much determined hoopla as they examine the word "pais." They seem to assume the Centurion was just tossing off the word. But one can understand that if this servant was indeed the Centurion's pais, the Centurion would have been feeling way unworthy...and would definitely say Jesus should NOT come into his house. The rulers of the synagogue kept telling Jesus that the man was "worthy" because he had built them a synagogue...but only the Centurion and Jesus knew what went on behind the walls of the Centurion's house.

But both stories have these things in common. The Centurion loved Israel and had built a synagogue. He was very loved by the people. He had a lot of faith in the God of Israel. Jesus praised the Centurion for his faith. And I do wonder about Christians who think that gay folks can't love God deeply.

So I agree that Jesus healed the Centurion's servant/pais-same-sex-partner. The gay christian movement says that Jesus didn't rebuke the centurion. Come on! Jesus wasn't the kind of person to rebuke people second-hand. Besides, why rebuke a person who seems to be well aware of his sin? Ever had one of those moments where one has said to a judgmental Christian, "I lose my temper a lot."? And the Christian says, "You really should work on that temper of yours. It's a sin." Duh. Besides, Jesus came to the lost sheep of Israel. He doesn't drop the Law on people who live outside of the Law.

Hey, I have tons of gay friends. Most of them feel they were NOT born gay. Some feel they were. Some are religious and in loving relationships. Some are religious and celibate. Some are slowly being healed. Some cruise around in way dangerous places. Some will proclaim to the world that they were born gay but privately to me and their close friends say the opposite. And I have no problem with that. Hey, I know the Christian world and the non-Christian world. Christians can be very harsh on gay folks. Gay folks can be harsh on Christians. The world can be harsh on them both.

Whatever the situation, I try to walk the borderlands. I try to be fair. I don't know what it's like to be born gay but I know what it's like to have an unusual sexual orientation. I, myself, have NEVER fallen in love with anyone black. Nor do I think I ever will. So I defend my gay friends always because I'm not going to judge a woman who dates another woman when I know my friend was sexually abused by her minister father or her alcoholic brother since age four or eight. Nor am I going to judge my friends who were molested by priests or Jehovah's Witness deacons or
by their fathers when they were young. So I'm not picking on gay folks. But I will challenge bad theology whenever I come up against it. And I will speak up against any kind of wrong interpretations or wrong conclusions I hear someone spouting. Hey, I'm still open to being convinced but so far none of the arguments have made any sense.
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