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The disciple whom Jesus loved

Peter Fleming  |  14 October 2019

I can’t help thinking that people who seek satisfaction from drugs or drink would do better for themselves by reading the Gospel of St John the Evangelist.

It is exhilarating. St John manages to ride a biblical rollercoaster, veering between intimate conversations involving Jesus on Earth, and a mystical vision of His meaning for all time.

Consider John’s opening: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God. He –’

Stop right there! The peerless vision of the power behind the entire universe in the first sentence lifts the reader to the heavens; then, John shocks us back to Earth with the simple masculine pronoun – ‘He’ - commencing the next sentence.

Jesus is a mystical divine force beyond time, all-encompassing; the very next moment, He is a person, somebody we can know.

John knew Him. More than that, John was His closest friend. Jesus had many people he could call friends – his cousin John the Baptist, Mary of Bethany and her sister Martha, their brother Lazarus – but John was ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved,’ (John 19:26 and elsewhere).

And this is the secret of his gospel’s power.

The synoptic gospels by Matthew, Mark and Luke present no less powerful a figure of Jesus, but for most of the time in them, Jesus speaks and acts publicly, and so we are kept at a distance.

But in John, we hear Jesus mostly in conversation, and He actually explains Himself.

Which is why, paradoxically, John’s Gospel is so full of metaphors. Jesus is ‘the Word’, the ‘true light’, ‘living water’, ‘the bread of life’, ‘the way and the truth and the life’, ‘the vine’ (of which we are the branches). How else could He explain the relationship between the world of matter created by Him, which He was traversing for a mere speck of time, and the realm of spiritual reality which was His divine home?

One miracle is that John was able to write this mystical vision down. John was part of a fishing firm (Luke 5: 10). His mother, Salome, had supported Jesus’ itinerant mission (Mark 15:40-41). The family had resources and John clearly had linguistic gifts.

The second miracle was that John was quick to learn the lessons of Jesus. It is John, as one of the two sons of Zebedee, who asked Jesus to give him pride of place in the Kingdom, on either His left or right hand. (Salome also pushed for this.) (Matthew 20: 20-28.) Jesus rebuked the sons of Zebedee: the greatest in the kingdom must be like servants. No wonder then, that it is John who included in his own gospel Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet as an example of servanthood at the Last Supper.

But the third miracle is greater still, and it is one which must have given great solace to Jesus in His time on Earth. We get a hint of it in the way John’s Gospel is written, where the language of Jesus’ discourses and that of John’s own narrative sometimes seem continuations of each other. We see it in the thoroughness of John’s understanding of Jesus’ mission and meaning (remember the succinctness of John 3:16?).

We see exactly why this writer of mystical understanding - who humbly presented mystery in the clearest form possible, for all of us to grasp – was the disciple whom Jesus loved.

To use a modern metaphor (which John wouldn’t mind), John was on Jesus’ own wavelength. He understood the divine mind, and, mysteriously, was best placed to render the Word … in words. 

 

 

 

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