Lazarus in a detail from “Crucifixion” by Christopher Olwage
Some believe that Lazarus of Bethany was the “beloved disciple” of Jesus -- and maybe even his gay lover. His feast day is today (Dec. 17).
Scholars theorize that Lazarus was also the unnamed “one whom Jesus loved,” also known as “the beloved disciple,” referenced at least five times in the Gospel of John. The term implies that Jesus was in love with him, and perhaps they shared the kind of intimacy that today would be called “gay.” Bible experts suggest that Lazarus was the unnamed naked man who ran away when Jesus was arrested in Mark 14:51-52. He may also have been the nameless “rich young ruler” who asks Jesus how to find eternal life in all three synoptic gospels.
“Raising of Lazarus,” 1905 (Wikimedia Commons)
Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus in a dramatic miracle told in John: 11. The Bible identifies him as a man living in the village of Bethany with his sisters Mary and Martha. Lazarus falls ill, and the sisters send a message to Jesus that “the one you love is sick.”
By the time Jesus arrives, Lazarus has been dead in his tomb for four days. Jesus weeps at the tomb, then calls, “Lazarus, come out!” To the amazement of all, Lazarus is restored to life. Lazarus coming out of the tomb has been seen as a symbol for LGBT people coming out of the closet by many LGBT people of faith.
by Christopher Olwage
Lazarus also appears in a gay-affirming crucifixion painted in 2015 by New Zealand artist Christopher Olwage. The artist shows a group of men reacting in various ways to Jesus on the cross. All are figures that Bible scholars believe may have had male-male sexual relationships. Lazarus bows his head in sorrowful prayer beneath a rainbow hood. John kneels and throws his head back as he gazes up at Jesus. The Centurion and the servant “who was dear to him” stare out at the viewer from both edges of the frame. For more about Olwage’s art, see the previous post Gay Jesus painting shown in New Zealand: Christopher Olwage paints LGBT Christian scenes.
Detail from “Stripped of Linen, Stripped of Lord” by Eric Martin, 2012
Gay artist Eric Martin devoted himself to learning about and depicting the nameless nude who ran away when Jesus was arrested in “Stripped of Linen, Stripped of Lord” and other paintings. For more info, see my previous post “Seeking the ‘naked young man’ of Mark’s gospel.”
The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives from the New Testament by Theodore Jennings is a comprehensive book that explores the possibility of Lazarus as Jesus’ lover -- and all the other major queer theories about the beloved disciple.
More queer ideas about Lazarus come from the controversial Secret Gospel of Mark, a recently discovered gospel that goes into homoerotic detail about Jesus’ relations with the “naked youth” who is often identified as Lazarus. The lost gospel was discovered in 1958 by Morton Smith, professor of ancient history at Columbia University, and described his his book The Secret Gospel: The Discovery and Interpretation of the Secret Gospel According to Mark. Recently Secret Mark has been discredited as a possible hoax in books such as The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark by Stephen C. Carlson.
Maybe Lazarus’ unusual family also included lesbians. Rev. Nancy Wilson, moderator of Metropolitan Community Churches, raises this possibility in her brochure “Our Story Too:Reading the Bible with New Eyes,” which says:
“Jesus loved Lazarus, Mary and Martha. What drew Jesus to this very non-traditional family group of a bachelor brother living with two spinster sisters? Two barren women and a eunuch are Jesus’ adult family of choice. Are we to assume they were all celibate heterosexuals? What if Mary and Martha were not sisters but called each other ‘sister’ as did most lesbian couples throughout recorded history?”
Wilson explores this concept more fully in her book "Outing the Bible: Queer Folks, God, Jesus, and the Christian Scriptures."
In my “Jesus in Love” novels, the beloved disciple is John, while Lazarus is a young gay friend. To honor Lazarus on his feast day, I will close with the scene from my novel “Jesus in Love: At the Cross” where Jesus describes raising Lazarus from the dead:
I had counted on getting instructions from the Holy Spirit as soon as I reached the tomb, but no word came. The finality of the tomb scared me. When people healed in my presence, it was their own faith that made them whole—but that wasn’t happening now. Lazarus had crossed the line and no matter how much faith he had, his soul seemed severed from his corpse.
I crouched on the earth in sorrow and supplication. The crowd around me began to murmur. “Look how much he loved him!”
Then came the inevitable naysayers. “Nah—if he really loved him, he would have kept him from dying.”
The tears that I had been holding back overflowed. I blocked out the sounds and sights around me and felt the grief that seemed to be tearing a hole in my divine heart. The impact of my tears on the earth set up a tiny vibration. I tuned into it and recognized the husky whisper of the Holy Spirit. I was surprised that I couldn’t distinguish Her words, but then I realized that She wasn’t talking to me.
Lazarus’ soul was listening intently. I was able to decipher part of the Holy Spirit’s message to him: “Arise, my darling, my beauty, and come away.”
I sighed as I let my friend go. “Okay, take him wherever You will,” I prayed.
Suddenly part of Lazarus’ soul reconnected with the physical world, like a boat dropping anchor. I knew what it meant.
I dashed to the tomb and tried to roll the stone away, but it was too heavy for me. “Let him out!” I shouted, pounding on the stone. I directed my fury against death itself, which took my beloved cousin, but wasn’t going to get away with Lazarus, too.
Martha came up behind me, speaking gently. “Rabbi, there’s already a stench. He died four days ago.”
“Love is as strong as death,” I replied, gritting my teeth as I strained hard against the stone. “Stronger!”
Then John stepped up and positioned himself to push along with me. He placed his long, gnarled fingers next to my younger ones on the stony surface. I turned to look in his eyes. We were reconciled in a single glance. Moving as one, we heaved the stone aside and unsealed the tomb.
The cave gaped open, revealing a darkness as opaque as soot. There was indeed a stink—and a rustling sound, too.
“Lazarus, come out!” I called.
Everyone gasped as a slim figure wrapped in grave clothes hobbled out of the tomb. Strips of linen cloth prevented him from moving his arms and legs much, and his face was covered by a linen scarf. It puffed in and out slightly with each breath. The wind blew the stench away, leaving the air fresh.
I touched Lazarus’ shoulder gently. “It’s me, Jesus,” I said as I began to unfasten his headscarf.
Homosexuality and Tradition: Jesus, John and Lazarus (Pharsea’s World)
"Lazarus Come Out" painting and essay by Richard Stott (I Ask For Wonder) (warning: nudity)
The Raising of Lazarus and the Gay Experience of Coming Out (Wild Reed)
Unbinding (Bible in Drag)
Seeking the “naked young man” of Mark’s gospel (Jesus in Love)
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, humanitarians, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.