Above: Altar at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, New York, New York
Image Source = Eric in SF
The Beloved Disciple
Exodus 33:18-23 (New Revised Standard Version):
Moses said to God,
Show me your glory, I pray.
And he said,
I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, “The LORD”; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,
you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.
And the LORD continued,
See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.
Psalm 92:1-4, 11-15 (New Revised Standard Version):
It is good to give thanks to the LORD,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy.
My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies;
my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants.
The righteous flourish like a palm tree,
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the LORD;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
In old age they still produce fruit;
they are always green and full of sap,
showing that the LORD is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
1 John 1:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version):
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life– this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us– we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
John 21:19b-24 (New Revised Standard Version):
Jesus said to Peter,
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said,
Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?
When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus,
Lord, what about him?
Jesus said to him,
If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!
So the rumor spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but,
If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?
This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true.
Shed upon your Church, O Lord, the brightness of your light, that we, being illumined by the teaching of your apostle and evangelist John, may so walk in the light of your truth, that at length we may attain to the fullness of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
St. John the Apostle (also known as St. John the Evangelist and St. John the Divine) was the brother of another Apostle, James, a son of Zebedee, and probably a cousin of Jesus (especially if we accept that his mother was Mary Salome, sister of Mary of Nazareth). So Jesus had two cousins named John, or literally, “God’s gracious gift.” One was a prophet; the other was a fisherman.
We have more information about St. John than about some of the other Apostles. He was apparently the youngest of the inner circle and the last to die. The friendship between Jesus and John seems to have been deeper than with any of the others, containing more emotional closeness, hence the designation “the Beloved Disciple.” (I like that Jesus had a confidant; he was fully human, not just fully divine.) Both John his brother James, were the “Sons of Thunder” (Although I heard a seminary professor say once that “hellraisers” was a more accurate translation.), denoting their penchant for hot-headedness, especially in youth. Yet this might have cooled over the decades. A tradition tells of the aged John (who did not die a martyr, despite numerous near-misses) visiting a Christian house church. The congregation gathered expectantly, prepared to hang on every word. The elderly Apostle said simple, “My children, love one another.” When someone asked him the ancient Greek equivalent of “That’s it?” John answered, “When you have done that, I will tell you more.”
The Gospels tell us that John was present at many key events in the life and ministry of Jesus: the Transfiguration, many healings, and the crucifixion. John took his aunt Mary (Jesus’ mother) into his household. John lived for many years, helped to organize and lead the nascent Christian movement, suffered for his faith, and lived to old age, dying in exile on the island of Patmos.
Traditions credit him with writing the Gospel of John, the three Letters of John, and the Revelation (also known as the Apocalypse of John), although I doubt that he wrote all of them, based on what I read in scholarly works and study Bibles. The authorship of all these works does not matter to me, however, for they are all Johannine, just as epistles written in Paul’s name after his death or anonymously by one of Paul’s acolytes are still Pauline. In New Testament authorship we deal more in schools (such as Johannine and Pauline) than people sometimes.
The Apostle John devoted most of his adult life to Jesus. May we follow his example, wherever that leads.