Saint John, Apostle – Readings


Commentary on 1 John 1:1-4; Ps 96; John 20:2-8

The Gospel reading is, naturally, from John.  It is the description of Peter and the “other disciple” running to the tomb on East Sundayer after they have been told by Mary Magdalen that the tomb is empty and she and the other women do not know where he has been taken.  (This is before Mary herself will see the Risen Jesus.)

Peter and the “other disciple” then run to the tomb.  Who is this “other disciple”?  For a long time it was believed that it was John the Apostle and Evangelist, who did not want to mention his own name in the writing of his gospel.  But it would seem now that this disciple is an imaginary figure, one who sums up in himself (or herself) all the qualities of a true and ideal disciple of Jesus.  He is the one who is closest to Jesus at the Last Supper; he is the one who stands by the cross of Jesus, when all the other disciples have run away; he is the one who (as we will see) sees the meaning of the empty tomb; he is the only one who recognises the Risen Lord in the shadowy stranger on the shore when the disciples went fishing after the Resurrection.

So, as the two disciples run to the tomb, the “other disciple” outruns Peter.  This is not just a question of physical fitness but of a greater urgency to be with his Lord.  Peter does love Jesus greatly but right now he is under a cloud, having betrayed his Master three times.  But, when they both reach the tomb, Peter is allowed to go in first.  He is the leader, the superior, to whom priority is given, even if he is lacking in something.  We obey our bishops or superiors not necessarily because they are holier than us but because they are our appointed leaders.

Peter looked into the tomb and saw the burial cloths on the ground but the piece of cloth which covered the face of Jesus was wrapped up in a place by itself.  For Peter, the tomb was just empty; Jesus was no longer there.  But when the other disciple looked in, “he saw and he believed”.  And then they returned to join their companions.

What did the other disciple see and what did he believe?  What he saw was the cloth that covered the face of Jesus folded neatly in a place by itself.  That told him everything.  The word used for ‘cloth’ here is the same as that used to describe the cloth that covered the face of Moses when he came down from Mount Sinai.  After being face to face with God, Moses’ face was so bright that he had to cover it with a cloth, otherwise the people would not be able to look at him.

Here the situation is reversed.  The cloth symbolises the veil of Jesus’ humanity which made it possible for us to see the Son of God face to face.  But now he has returned face to face with his Father and he will never wear that veil again.  The other disciple now understood and believed that his Master was risen and had returned to the Father.  Peter was not able to see this – only the Beloved Disciple could discern it.

This Gospel has been chosen on the understanding that the “other disciple” is John the Apostle, whose feast we are celebrating.  But, even if he is not, his feast is worthy of celebration for, like all the saints, he found God through his imperfections.  Which is what each of us has to do also as we try to become beloved disciples.

 

The First Reading is from the beginning of the First Letter of John, a work that seems to have been written by the same author as the Gospel of John.  It is a declaration of the author and his fellow Christians of their beliefs.

He is telling us what was from the beginning, what he has heard, what he has seen with his own eyes, what he has looked on and what his hands have touched.  He is passing this on so that we, too, may share this experience, namely, fellowship with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.  Indeed, the purpose of the writing is to fill the reader with joy.

We are indeed indebted to the writers of the New Testament who have presented us with a wonderful vision of how life is to be lived, bringing joy and fulfilment.  We thank especially the writer of the Gospel of John, which gives such a supreme understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ life and death for us.  Let us enter deeply into all the writing of the New Testament, especially the gospels and the letters of Paul, let us make ourselves familiar with them and then incorporate their vision and their teaching into our lives.

After all, that is the meaning of Christmas.

 

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