December 27, 2014
Today we celebrate the Feast of St. John, the Apostle. Although the Gospel of John never reveals the name of the "beloved disciple" tradition has identified him with John, the son of Zebedee, one of the twelve apostles and author of the fourth Gospel. For some reason, the old Smothers brothers' comedy routine comes to mind whenever I hear about the “disciple whom Jesus loved." The playful argument (paraphrased here) takes place between Dick, the straight man and his slower brother, Tommy:
Tommy: Mom always liked you best. Mom always liked my brother best
and she never liked me.
Such sibling rivalry seems so inconsistent with what we know about Jesus. Surely he doesn't play favorites. Doesn’t Jesus love us all equally? And yet, today's reading refers to Peter and "the other disciple whom Jesus loved."
Tommy: You always picked on me! You and mom... my mom and my brother got together to say, "we don't like you" because mom always liked you best!
This other disciple outruns Peter, reaching the tomb first (mentioned twice, as if to rub it in). He's the one who saw and believed (as if to imply that Peter did not).
Dick: Do you know why she liked me best?
To understand John we need to know a little about the Johannine community he wrote to. Most likely, this early Christian community traced its foundation to one of Jesus' followers who came to be known as the "beloved disciple." The writer of John wanted to show that the witness value of this founder rivaled that of Peter. So the author "builds up" this unnamed disciple to establish his credentials with the community.
Further, many early Christians began to see Christianity more as spiritual enlightenment in which salvation came to a select few who were "in the know." So the author of John also wanted counter the threat that Christianity would become more about what you know as opposed to who you know. The "beloved disciple" shows us the importance of the love that exists not only between him and Jesus, but also between Jesus and us. The Gospel of John thus calls each one of us to enter into a similar deep and loving relationship with Jesus.
Echoing the first reading, God calls us into the most important fellowship, the only relationship that will make our joy complete. God calls each of us to become the disciple whom Jesus loves… because only Jesus can love each of us the best.
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