CW: This post covers sensitive subjects, such as homophobia and spiritual abuse. Reader discretion is advised. I am not a scholar or theologian, but someone passionate about extensive research, learning religious history through context and reputable Hebrew scholars etc. and providing my own interpretation of these passages through this. Any and all abusive comments will be blocked and reported.
Hello and welcome back to part 2 of my series, deconstructing known ‘clobber verses’ from the Bible, often used to vilify innocent people such as the disabled, the poor, non-Christians and LGBTQ+ people. Currently, we’re looking at the latter: the vilification of LGBTQ+ people at the hands of prejudiced religious individuals. If you would like to look at part one, click here.
Today we’re looking at another infamous clobber verse: Matthew 16:24-28:
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” – Matthew: 16:24-28, NRSV.
The first paragraph of these verses are the brawn of this clobbering. Some homophobic religious (in this case, Christian) people will use this verse, telling queer people that in order to follow Jesus and/or be a ‘real’ Christian, they must ‘put their sin of homosexuality’ on the cross and ‘die to their flesh’, in order to be ‘worthy’ of Christ.
Here’s why that is nothing to do with being LGBTQ+ at all.
Like most verses in the Bible, or any religious text for that matter (as stated in part one, my own personal faith is rooted in Christian and Quaker teachings) is saturated in metaphor. Not to toot my own horn here, but having qualifications in Creative Writing, I know metaphor and symbolism when I see it, and there is a lot just in this one passage alone. Now, as always, especially when it comes to holy texts, history and context is EVERYTHING.
So, let’s start:
I know this might sound like I’m being condescending, but from my experience it’s really easy to forget one very important thing: Did you read the parts before and after the verse you’re citing? It’s so easy to cite a verse to say anything, but if you don’t look at the whole story, it takes the context of the verse away entirely. That’s something we see often, with verses regularly being taken out of context and weaponised against marginalised communities.
If we look at the verse before this passage, Matthew 16:21-23, Jesus foretells to his disciples that he is to go to Jerusalem, where he will inevitably be persecuted and crucified, and then raise from the dead. Peter tries to talk him out of it, but to no avail. The passage is as follows:
“From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” – Matthew 16:21-23, NRSV
After this, we see Jesus’ transfiguration on a mountain before Peter, James and his brother John (Matthew 17:1-13). So looking at this, we see a clearer picture. He is telling his disciples to follow him in doing what he needs to do, even though they don’t want him to suffer and ultimately die. As par human nature, they grew close to him and they didn’t want him to leave.
This, to homophobic people, can be weaponised to say that in order to follow Jesus, LGBTQ+ people have to ‘deny themselves’, essentially stop being themselves and hate themselves. This is not the case. Jesus is telling the disciples to ‘deny themselves’ of what they wanted there, which was for him to go to Jerusalem, and follow him in his decision to do so, which inevitably comes the infamous story of the crucifixion.
Regarding, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” this is where heavy metaphor comes in.
Being a very powerful verse in Christian conviction, it basically means, summed up, that if you follow Jesus, you inevitably leave your former life behind. Naturally, when one follows a way of life, religious or not, we are not the same as we were before it. That is what it means, and to incorporate Jesus’ teachings into our lives (if you believe such things, there is no compulsion in religion, after all) to love God and love thy neighbour.
By this, I mean putting selfish wants aside like greed and focusing on the greater good to help others, having a faith and living your best life as you see in accordance with such. For further context, this is what the disciples did, albeit to an extreme extent where, in true Biblical disciple fashion, they dropped literally everything to follow him. Things like smartphones and 9-5 office IT jobs weren’t really a thing 2,000 years ago.
‘Losing one’s life’ as such to follow Jesus can relate to starting a new chapter in one’s life. It relates to things that Jesus was very outspoken on, such as financial greed, being power hungry and not caring for others, such as the poor and the homeless. If you look at the whole Bible, Jesus himself never said one thing about homosexuality, at all. But he said a lot about tax collectors!
Ultimately, it is about your own personal relationship with God. But as we look at this passage, it is do with Jesus guiding his disciples, NOT homosexuality.