Diane keeps reminding me, “When Christians talk about homosexuality no one wants to talk about the elephant in the room, the worry that Jesus might have been gay.”
I’m not going to talk about that. What I actually know is that Jesus’ physical relationship with his “favorite,” with John the Beloved Disciple, makes us (makes me?) feel uncomfortable. John not only rests his head on Jesus’ chest (Jesus’ bosom) during the Last Supper, that fact is repeated, for emphasis, near the end of the gospel (his breast).
Why emphasize that physical detail? It strikes me as an odd thing to repeat. It’s not like the commandment to love one another. It’s as though God is saying, “Notice this folks. Note the physical proximity of the Messiah and one of his disciples.” No, not physical proximity. “Note the prolonged, physical, comfortable body contact of Jesus and John.”
Picture a church barbecue at the beach. Church leaders are sitting on a beach blanket, and the lay leader, or chairman of deacons, or head elder, is resting his head on the pastor’s shoulder. No, not his shoulder–make that the pastor’s chest. They look so relaxed.
How will that look on Facebook? “OMG! I’m forwarding this to the bishop!”
Whenever I read something in the Bible that is repeated almost verbatim, I take notice. Such repetitions can reveal a number of different things. The following five verses all contain the phrase, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” or something very close to that, with reference to John. I’m not sure what this particular repetition means, but I haven’t ruled anything out.
Many of you will be familiar with the following five verses. I’ve read them before, but it’s been a long time since I looked at them all together. They have made me think.
“The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved” — The Five Verses
- Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. (John 13:23)
- When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing by, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! (John 19:26)
- Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the LORD out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. (John 20:2)
- Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea. (John 21:7)
- Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; (which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?) (John 21:20)
(John 13:23; 19:26 ; 20:2 ; 21:7; 21: 20)
Translators do something interesting with the phrase. It’s not ungrammatical, but for common English usage, it’s overly grammatical.
- The man whom dad killed.
- The candidate whom Obama defeated.
- The son whom you bore.
- The disciple whom Jesus loved.
The use of the word “whom” elevates the tone, dilutes the significance of the sentence with its wordiness. What is the difference between “The disciple whom Jesus loved” and “The disciple Jesus loved”? There is a difference in tone, an artificial difference.
I would like to note a few things, not to indicate the precise significance of “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” but to suggest it’s great importance to the author.
“The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved” — Repetition, Location, Meaning, Sheer Presence
- Repetition: The phrase, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” is repeated five times. This repetition would force everyone from readers to preachers and expositors to address the phrase’s significance and meaning. In other words, there was no way you could miss it, and that was deliberate.
- Location: The phrase, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” appears in three key scenes, a) the Last Supper, b) the Crucifixion, and c) the Resurrection. The phrase would be mentioned in virtually all seasonal messages and gospel presentations based on these passages. Again, there was no way you could miss it.
- Agreed-Upon Meaning: All believers would know that Jesus had a unique and intimate relationship with one particular man, no matter how a priest might explain that relationship. Every reader or hearer would invariably interpret that relationship in the privacy of their own hearts and minds. Such a relationship between two men would hold special significance for some people, who would derive more succor and encouragement from that special relationship than others.
- Sheer Presence: The very presence of the phrase was the creative option of the person responsible for its presence in the text. The phrase is not spoken in the scene by any of the actors, so it is not a matter of preserving something in the “historical record.” It is there because the writer or redactor, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wanted them there. The phrase “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is a deliberate editorial comment.
My word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)