Jesus praised a gay centurion in the Roman army as a model of faith and healed his male lover in the gospels, according to many Bible experts. The soldier is highlighted here today (March 15) for the feast day of Longinus, a centurion at the crucifixion of Jesus.
by Luc Viatour
Both Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10 tell how a centurion asked Jesus to heal the young man referred to in Greek as his “pais.” The word was commonly used for the younger partner in a same-sex relationship. It is usually translated as boy, servant or slave. In recent years progressive Bible scholars have concluded that the centurion was in a homosexual relationship with the “slave who was dear to him” in the gospel story.
Jesus was willing to go into the centurion’s house to heal his lover, but the centurion stopped him, saying, “Sir, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”
Jesus marveled and told the crowd around him, “Not even in Israel have I found such faith!” To the centurion he said, “Go; be it done for you as you have believed.” And his boyfriend was healed at that moment.
Scholars believe that “boy” was the centurion’s sex partner not only due to the word “pais,” but also because it is unlikely that a soldier would care so much about an ordinary slave. It was common in Greco-Roman culture for mature men to pair up with a young man as his lover in “erastes-eromenes” pederastic sexual relationship.
This interpretation is promoted by LGBTQ-friendly church groups such as WouldJesusDiscriminate.org on billboards stating “Jesus affirmed a gay couple.” For more info, see my previous post, Billboards show gay-friendly Jesus.
The centurion’s story has gotten surprisingly little attention throughout history considering that Jesus himself was impressed by his faith. But the Roman soldier has always been an unlikely role model. Jesus’ contemporaries were probably shocked that the great healer would praise a military man who enforced Roman occupation of their land. Today people may find the centurion unappealing because he may have been queer, or a slave owner, or both. It was just like Jesus to take someone disreputable and praise them as holy.
While the faithful centurion himself is rarely mentioned, his words do live on in a prayer used in many Catholic and Protestant eucharistic liturgies. For example, the prayer immediately before communion at Catholic mass paraphrases his words: “Lord I am not worthy to receive you under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
Saint Longinus, whose feast day is today (March 15) is the centurion who pierced Christ’s side at the crucifixion and declared, “Truly this man was the son of God.” It’s possible that he is the same faithful gay centurion whose beloved boyfriend was healed by Jesus.
Artists portray the gay centurion
Gay New Zealand artist Christopher Olwage pictures the centurion and his “pais” with Jesus at the cross in his 2015 crucifixion painting. The scene is framed by a male couple: the centurion on the left and the man “who was dear to him” on the right. The nude painting includes two other men who may have had male-male sexual relationships with Christ: John, who is most often identified as the Beloved Disciple and Lazarus. For more info, see the previous post Gay Jesus painting shown in New Zealand.
Jesus’ healing interaction with the same-sex couple has fascinated artist Eric Martin so much that he created two works based on their story. Martin is a gay poet, artist, and church organist in Burlington, North Carolina. He has a Master of Divinity degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC.
“Traces of His Presence” at the top of this post uses fluid lines and bold red to reveal the face of Christ in the holy space between the centurion and his beloved.
Martin takes a more realistic approach in “The Visit.” A rainbow arches behind Jesus as he gazes at the centurion and his pais. Their varied expressions draw the viewer deeper into the drama.
Books that explore the homosexuality of the gay centurion
Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times by Tom Horner
The Children Are Free: Reexamining the Biblical Evidence on Same-sex Relationships by Jeff Miner and John Tyler Connoley
What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality by Daniel Helminiak
The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives from the New Testament by Theodore Jennings
Links related to the gay centurion
A gay centurion comes out to Jesus (Gay Christian 101)
Jesus and the centurion (Wild Reed)
Gay centurion (My Queer Scripture)
The centurion of great faith (Homosexuality and Scripture by Pharsea)
Jesus, the centurion, and his lover (Jack Clark Robinson at Gay and Lesbian Review)
When Jesus Healed a Same-Sex Partner by Jay Michaelson (Huffington Post)
The Gay Gospel? (The L Stop)
Top image credit: “Traces of His Presence” by Eric Martin
This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.
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