In a world whose gods – money, sex, possessions – do not satisfy, Jesus’ teaching, as we find it in the gospels offers us a way of living that turns that upside down, that puts self-giving love at the centre. And Paul explains how, although we all get it wrong and keep getting it wrong, Jesus, by his sacrificial love on the cross has put us right with God.
In Romans 3 v 23, Paul writes “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. But he doesn’t stop there, he goes on in the next verse to say we are “justified freely by God’s grace through Jesus. This wonderful explanation by Paul in chapters 1 – 5 is summed up in chapter 5 verse 8 in that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
But is this open to lgbt people? Is just being gay sinful? What was Jesus’ attitude?
In Jesus’ day as in all ages there were lgbt people. But they would be likely to be oppressed, repressed, in the closet, at least in Jewish society. For gay men at the extreme of the spectrum there would be the issue of being inadequate in marriage and potentially ostracised. In his teaching on divorce, Jesus speaks of people who were “born that way” (Good News Bible) or “born eunuchs” as well as those “men made that way”. Gay men would be seen as eunuchs. Jesus’ concern was that they should not be forced into heterosexual marriage.
In Matthew 19 vv 11 – 12 “Jesus answered “This teaching (the teaching on marriage and divorce) does not apply to everyone, but only to those to whom God has given it. For there are different reasons why men cannot marry: some because they were born that way; others because men made them that way …” Jesus was certainly not saying that everyone ought to be able to have a straight marriage if they prayed hard enough. His concern was with people as they are. And although there is no similar comment about women, Jesus’ concern for women to be treated fairly and sensitively by men, perhaps gives us a flavour of how he would have treated the lesbian women of his day.
There was however, homosexual practise in surrounding societies, looked down on by those in self-righteous Jewish religious groups such as the Pharisees. For example, Roman army leaders, unable to take a wife with them on their campaigns would often choose an attractive young male servant to satisfy their sexual desires. These young men or boys were known as catamites. Jesus would have known this when he met a centurion who asked him to save the servant who he loves. The centurion has left his “very dear” servant at home in bed. Jesus doesn’t ask if he is the centurion’s catamite, which might be expected – but what matters to Jesus is his love for him and so he heals him. What Jesus is concerned with is self-giving love. We would not, of course condone using young men as catamites today, but it is Jesus’ reaction which is striking here. You can find the story in Luke chapter 7 or Matthew chapter 8 vv 5 and following.
What about Paul?
Christians argue about what Paul means when he criticises the abuse of sexuality. This is really the subject of another study but a number of brief interesting things can be said here. Because of his initial belief that the second coming was imminent, in his early writings, Paul actually advocated refraining from sexual activity for all Christians, whatever their sexuality but with the concession of seeking a loving partnership (i.e. marriage) rather than “burning with passion”.
In 1 Corinthians 7 vv 8-9 he writes “Now to the unmarried, and to the widows I say that it would be better for you to continue to live alone as I do. But if you cannot restrain your desires go ahead and marry – it is better to marry than to burn with passion” Verse 25 makes clear he is giving opinion, not commands from the Lord.
But more important, Paul makes clear that no one is excluded for who they are. Turning to Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he reminds them in that wonderful verse at the beginning of chapter 3 “You foolish Galatians, who has put a spell on you?” What is this spell? It is the idea that putting up barriers can restrict the gospel to those who fit, in their case those (men of course) who had been circumcised. No says Paul! Faith in Christ has made us all equal. He concludes with that fabulous and shocking verse to the people of the time, verse 28. He gives three examples, “there is neither Jew not Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but he doesn’t stop there. He goes one “you are all one in Christ Jesus”, so that to the end of eternity when the church tries to set up barriers we can go on adding categories – so there is indeed neither gay nor straight is God’s kingdom!