The Love Connection; Matthew 8.5-13, Luke 7.1-10, John 4.46-53

Can a Christian legitimately claim that gays and lesbians are rejected by God? What if Jesus accepts those relationships?  He does. And I believe I can prove it through an historical examination Matthew’s story of the Centurion and his adopted kindred, his παῖς (pais).[1]  The story of the Centurion and his pais is immensely popular.  As a Roman Catholic child I remember an adaptation of the Centurion’s words being used as a response during the Eucharist celebration, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, speak but the word and my soul[2] will be healed.” 

     The same story is told in two more gospels, Luke 7.1-10, and John 4.46-53. Luke ascribes the concern to the Centurion for his dear slave (ἒντιμος δοῦλος) with an illness, that is his slave (δοῦλος) who was dear to him or held in high esteem (ἒντιμος) by the Centurion.  John tells the same story, only about a royal official (Βασιλικός) whose son (υιός) was ill.  All three gospels reflect a relationship that was unusual.  This was no regular servant, for Luke, but one whom the Centurion highly esteemed.[3]  The sense that comes out in this pericope is one of love, of what is honored in one’s sight.  This Centurion has acknowledged Jesus’s power over him and his household.  He has behaved in contrast to all that the culture has taught him, he has metaphorically prostrated himself before another of lesser social standing; all this is in his concern for this servant whom he ends up calling his παῖς, “pais,” in verse 7, saying, “Therefore, though I am not worthy to come to you, just say the word, and let him be healed, my pais.” 

     John recognizes the relationship to have been a close one and identifies the royal official’s concern to be that of a father for a son.  By viewing the three gospels, by seeing the unique relationship between the two people whom Jesus serves by his healing grace, we must gather the meaning of love between the two.  Our inductive observation would be that these two had no πblood relation but were joined in love, whatever may have been the observable demonstration of that love.  Finally, all three writers have Jesus give forth his blessing.  The young man-honored servant-son-adopted kindred was healed.  “Never, among all in Israel have I found such faith.” (Luke 7.9) This Centurion, contrary to those about whom Paul was speaking in Romans 1, has not put idols above God.  He has not placed himself judge over others.  Whatever went on in their relationship, this Centurion has placed himself at the mercy of Jesus by his faith, which has come about by his love for another, whose status has been increased by his relationship with the Centurion, not diminished.  Faith and equanimity of relationship are tied in together in these examples both from Romans 1, and from the gospel accounts.

     This use of pais, in Matthew’s account of the event, is, for me, a first century way of explaining that these two males were joined as lovers, as well as friends.  John Boswell’s work has uncovered the Roman practice whereby Roman citizens adopted same-gender lovers in the place of marriage.[4]  Jesus healing the adopted kindred—as I like to call him—for the Centurion, who feels in some way, unworthy for Jesus to enter his house (Is this because of his socially unaccepted love?),[5] and acclaiming his faith, is a gesture of blessing.  How much more faith would it take if the Centurion was also exposing himself to ridicule and recrimination by claiming this relationship to his lover, in what may have been an obvious interpretation in the first century of his use of the word pais?  In light of Matthew’s “Eunuch” passage,[6] this additional passage referring to same-gender love relationships gives Matthew the unique distinction of being the only gospel where Jesus engages the subject of—as we might call it today—homosexuality, not once but at least twice.[7]

[1] See Liddell-Scott, p. 1289, παῖς: I.1, of an adopted son, ἀλλά σε παῖδα ποιεύμην Iliad; and, Boswell, p. 347, n.33, where he finds Chrysostom’s use of pais to refer to men engaged in same-gender sexual behavior ref: Chrysostom, Adversus oppugnatores vitae monasticae 3.8, and In Epistolam ad Titum, homily 5.

[2] Soul is used rather than the Centurion’s use of pais: Adopted brother or son, i.e. kindred.

[3] Liddell-Scott, p. 576 I.1.

[4] John Boswell, Same-Sex Unions In Premodern Europe. (New York: Villard Books, 1994) p. 98-106, 107, 194-98, 222, 257-58, 342-43.

[5] Another reason for the Centurion to admit that he is unworthy for Jesus to enter his house is because he is a gentile, and Jews were not to enter the houses of gentiles or they would become unclean.

[6] cf. p. 14-15.

[7] Given the placement of Jesus condemning the barren fig tree, I make a case, in my already mentioned paper on eunuchs, that Jesus is referring to Isaiah 56.3-5 and its connection to that prophet’s blessing on eunuchs—i.e. homosexuals.

Published by ptdog1

A little about me: My name is Thomas Carson Ziegert. I’m a recently retired Elder in the United Methodist Church and live in the Mojave Desert of Southern California. Born in Wilmington Delaware and a graduate of Catholic elementary then public high school I continued for a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in Political Science, from the University of Delaware. I spent one semester in Geneva, Switzerland and researched transnational economic relationships at the United Nations Library there. Then I moved to Los Angeles where I got a job and explored my options. Eventually, I went into business, then sold it and pursued my calling into ministry in the United Methodist Church. I graduated from the Claremont School of Theology with a Masters of Divinity Degree and was ordained as an Elder in Full Connection in the UMC, as the first ordained openly gay Elder in the Conference. In between the lines is my understanding that I was gay while a student at the University of Delaware, the limitations that would afford me in my fields of interest throughout my life, especially as a pastor, and my research into what the Bible really said in its original language about homosexuality. I found love then he died of complications from AIDS after an 11 year relationship. We were both diagnosed with HIV in 1986. He died in 1992, I lived. I’ve been asymptomatic through the years. I hope my life honors his and those who honor me by loving me still. About the blog: This blog will be the place I store my writings and where we can more thoroughly exchange experiences and reflections on those experiences. I hope this will be a sanctuary for fearlessly exploring how we understand ourselves and our relationship with God, and be a place of nurture as we grow in our understanding and relationships.

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