Father James Martin: Jesus’s greatest miracle and LGBTQ people

Views James Martin, S.J. / September 4, 2023 Print this:
"Take away the stone" (detail) by John August Swanson. From “Come Forth: The Promise of Jesus’s Greatest Miracle,” by James Martin, S.J. Available from HarperOne.

This essay is adapted from James Martin, S.J.’s new book Come Forth: The Promise of Jesus’s Greatest Miracle, available from HarperOne.

Originally, I was thinking about calling my new book, Lazarus, Come Out!

After all, this is the simplest way to translate this famous clause in Greek: Lazare, deuro exō (Jn 11: 43). Jesus’s words, which he shouts (“in a loud voice”) standing before the tomb of his friend Lazarus, the brother of his friends Martha and Mary, mark the high point of what is often called “Jesus’s greatest miracle.” Exō means “out” or “away.” When Jesus expels demons, exō is used, and the English translation is “cast out.”

So “come out” is probably a more accurate translation of the Greek in John’s Gospel than “come forth,” which has a kind of “directional” sense to it. 

As I have already mentioned, my book Building a Bridge, about LGBTQ Catholics, garnered a good deal of controversy when it was published a few years ago, even though it didn’t challenge any church teaching. So as much as I treasure the dramatic words “Lazarus, come out!” I was concerned that the reference to “coming out” would be seen as a veiled comment on that earlier book, thereby serving as an occasion for snide comments or distracting from this book, which is not focused on LGBTQ people but on everyone.  

“Coming out” means to accept, embrace and love who you are, especially your sexuality and the way that God made you.

This message, however, is especially important for LGBTQ people. “Coming out” means to accept, embrace and love who you are, especially your sexuality and the way that God made you, and to reveal or share that part of yourself with others. Coming out is often a critical step for LGBTQ people, who are sometimes told, either overtly or covertly, that they should not accept or love themselves. Or that they are a mistake, less valuable than straight people or less worthy of love and affection. Or, worst of all, that God doesn’t love them.

In many places this has changed for the better, with LGBTQ people finding more welcome and acceptance. But in some locales and countries, coming out is still made difficult by the hateful and harmful messages communicated to LGBTQ people, especially youth.

Often these messages come from religious people who believe that they’re doing LGBTQ people a favor by speaking this “truth” to them: they are nothing more than a mistake. This may be coupled with rejection from families, which can be devastating to a person who may already be facing bullying, harassment and even violence outside of their families.

In many places in the world, LGBTQ people are faced with the severest of persecutions, sometimes encoded in civil law. Mark Gevisser’s powerful book The Pink Line: Journeys Across the World’s Queer Frontiers, published in 2020, which looks at the plight of LGBTQ people around the world, offers at times shocking testimony from this community.

Sometimes, out of fear of being beaten to death or executed (same-sex relations warrant the death penalty in seven countries), they must escape their own countries. Gevisser details situations where these LGBTQ refugees are then harassed and beaten in the very refugee camps to which they flee.

All of this can lead many LGBTQ people, especially youth, to reject an essential part of themselves, fall into despair and even consider suicide. When this happens in a religious context (that is, being rejected for supposedly religious reasons by families, friends or church), it can turn LGBTQ people away from the church and from God.

Churches need to be aware of the real-life effects of stigmatizing language about LGBTQ people.

Tragically, this happens at the precise time when such young people most need the support of God and their faith communities. Not long ago I read an article about a bullied 12-year-old American boy who had died by suicide. His distraught parents said, “He was told because he didn’t necessarily have a religion and that he said he was gay that he was going to go to Hell. They told him that quite often.”

Churches need to be aware of the real-life effects of stigmatizing language about LGBTQ people. Coming out, whenever it happens, is a key step in both their emotional maturation and spiritual growth. It is a sign of a healthy love of self, which is sometimes a challenge for LGBTQ people.

For all these reasons, when I hear the words “Lazarus, come out!” which Jesus utters to his friend, locked inside his cold tomb, I think of the invitation for all of us to leave behind in our “tombs” whatever keeps us bound, unfree, dead. And, just as often, I think of LGBTQ people and their own invitation to “come out” into the sunlight of God’s love.

James Martin, S.J.

James Martin, S.J., is the editor of Outreach and the editor at large of America Media.

All articles by James Martin, S.J.

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