Christ the Bridegroom, Br. Robert Lentz, OFM, © 1985.
Acrylic and gold leaf, 18” x 12.” Courtesy of www.trinitystores.com
Many believe that John the Evangelist was Jesus’ “beloved disciple” -- and possibly his gay lover. His feast day is today (Dec. 27).
John was an apostle of Jesus and is the presumed author of the Biblical Gospel of John, Book of Revelation and Epistles of John.
Reputable Bible scholars have explored the controversial idea that Jesus and John were lovers. An excellent analysis is included in “The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives from the New Testament” by Theodore Jennings, Biblical theology professor at Chicago Theological Seminary. He finds the evidence “inconclusive” as to whether the beloved disciple was John, but it leaves no doubt that Jesus had a male lover.
“A close reading of the texts in which the beloved disciple appears supports the hypothesis that the relationship between him and Jesus may be understood as that of lovers. As it happens, both Jesus and the beloved are male, meaning that their relationship may be said to be, in modern terms, a ‘homosexual’ relationship,” Jennings writes (p. 34).
The love between John and Jesus is illustrated in the icon above, “Christ the Bridegroom,” by Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar known for his innovative icons. Author-priest Henri Nouwen, famous but struggling with a secret gay identity, commissioned it in 1983. He asked for an icon that symbolized the act of offering his own sexuality and affection to Christ. Research and reflection led Lentz to paint Christ being embraced by his beloved disciple John, based on an icon from medieval Crete.
“Henri used it to come to grips with his own homosexuality,” Lentz said in an interview for my book “Art That Dares,” which includes this icon and the story behind it. “I was told he carried it with him everywhere and it was one of the most precious things in his life.” Nouwen’s goal was celibacy and he did not come out publicly as gay before his death in 1996. The icon takes the Biblical theme of Christ as bridegroom and joins it to the medieval motif of Christ with St. John. The resulting image expresses their intimate friendship with exquisite subtlety.
I also wrote about John as the beloved disciple in my novels “Jesus in Love” and “At the Cross.” I consider John to be one of the gay saints. In honor of John’s feast day, I post this scene from “Jesus in Love: A Novel.” Jesus, the narrator, remembers the day he met John:
I became distracted by the not unwelcome presence of somebody standing close behind me, closer than necessary in the loosely packed crowd. I sensed that it was John, and spun around to see him planted there like a tall cedar tree. He leaned against me, eyes flashing. “I can’t wait for the Messiah to come. I’ve seen him in visions.”_________
“Really? Tell me what you remember.” It was exciting to find someone who was aware of God’s efforts to communicate.
“The Messiah is like a gentle lamb who sits on a throne with a rainbow around it. And yet his eyes flame with fire, and a sharp sword comes out of his mouth to strike down evildoers.”
“The truth is large,” I said.
“Are you saying my vision isn’t true?” he challenged.
“No, I’m not saying that. I expect that you will see more.”
When John smiled, his faced crinkled into a fascinating landscape of wrinkles. His eyes felt black and mysterious like the midnight sky as they roamed over me. “Do you want a prayer partner tonight?” he asked.
If anyone else had asked, I would have said no, but I looked again at John’s handsome, bejeweled soul and his long, sinewy body.
“Sure,” I agreed impulsively.
Only then did I notice that the Baptist had finished preaching. John steered me toward the caves where the Baptist and his inner circle of disciples lived. Lower-ranking disciples were ready with water vessels and towels to assist everyone with ritual purification before we ate a spartan meal of locusts and wild honey. One of them approached me.
“Wash up, and we’ll get together after supper,” John said as we parted.
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.