John’s laborious life in the water hauling in fish will come to an abrupt halt as he is quickly summoned to become a disciple of Jesus and in time to be transformed into a career Apostle. John’s Gospel and eyewitness account catapults him to the forefront of Christendom. He is inspired.
Today, December 27th marks the Feast of Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist. Having minored in the humanities in college, I have always considered John my favorite Gospel author. Early on, I was drawn to the beginning chapters that read like poetry, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’
Historically, John meets Jesus when he’s quite young, maybe even be a teenager. Perhaps, John receives the endearing term as the beloved disciple because he reminds Jesus of his younger brothers back home? And it will be this young man, John of Capernaum, who is soon swept into the dramatic conversation with his older brother James and their fishing companion Simon Peter, as Jesus asks to share their boats along the shores of Galilee.
Throughout the fourth Gospel, Jesus draws John into his inner circle to behold his earthly power and his ability to perform miracles. I enjoy thinking about John’s words of being the ‘beloved disciple.’ I can imagine this unique relationship and with a bit of creativity, I can live vicariously. It helps bring forth the personal relationship of knowing God closer.
John begins his narrative of events with everyday life. He writes of another John, the baptizer and reformer working alongside the Jordan River. The calling of his disciples and a wedding feast in Cana. John the Gospel writer and Apostle continues with testifying to the miracles of loaves and fishes and Jesus walking on the water (one can only imagine John lying awake at night thinking about that episode!). He writes of the time Jesus’ own family did not believe in him. There is also the spectacle of that woman in Jerusalem who’s called out for adultery and John recollection of Jesus healing a blind man. John proclaims the Good News in such a way that at the end of his work, the reader may wonder what was not documented?
The story that John writes is clear—there are human beings in relationships. He documents relationships with the oppositional forces of those in authority in both the Roman leadership and also relationships with those in ecclesiastical leadership, too. Foremost, this Gospel recalls the touching relationship shared between Jesus and his disciples. John offers insight into the conversations in the upper room at the last supper where he sits at a table surrounded by his new community in Jerusalem. This group of men and women, who over time, John will outlive as they are martyred.
And in the final moments of Jesus’ life, John is given the huge responsibility of protecting a highly visible and key player in this narrative, Mary. One might ask, where are Jesus’ brothers? Why can’t they do the job? But John’s heart is one of compassion, and perhaps Jesus knows Mary will need someone more patient to talk with about what she has gone through— the miracle occurrence of a resurrection and the trauma of a crucifixion which are unforgettably interwoven. John and Mary shared a common life experience.
Tradition says John built Mary a house up in the hill country of Ephesus, so her ‘eyewitness’ would be safe from those wishing to do her harm. To this day, the House of Mary is a pilgrimage location where miracles are said to take place.
John’s presence through the early formation of the Church after Christ’s death would have been like an anchor. For those observing on the streets of Antioch or Ephesus, ‘There walks a man who knew Jesus.’ One who shared bread with him, drank wine with him, and sang the Psalms up the Mount of Olives. John’s long life and testimony is a strong witness. His final years, whether he finds himself on the Island of Patmos receiving the divine inspiration of the Book of Revelation or joining other disciples who have fled the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, the Holy Spirit is with him, and his Gospel message inspires us today.
‘And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.’