Saint John Apostle


Saint John Apostle

John was one of two sons of Zebedee and tradition give the mother’s name as Salome. From the Gospel we learn that John with his father and brother were fishermen in Lake Galilee. He with his brother James and Peter belonged to the inner circle of disciples around Jesus. There is, of course, no record of his year or place of birth.John, with Peter and his brother, were privileged witnesses of certain events in the Gospel story.
They were with Jesus when he restored the daughter of Jairus to life (Matt 5:37; Luke 9:51) and also at the Transfiguration (Matt 17:1; Mark 9:2; Luke 9:28) and the Agony in the Garden (Matt 26:37; Mark 14:33). It was John who went with Peter into the city to make the preparation for the final Passover meal (the Last Supper) (Luke 22:8). It is possible that John was the “other disciple” who “kept following Jesus closely” (in more ways than one) as Jesus was brought into the high priest’s house (John 18:15). But it may refer to the “Beloved Disciple”.
John and his brother were called ‘Boanerges’ or ‘Sons of Thunder’ (Mark 3:17) by Jesus because of their fiery temperament, revealed when they suggested Jesus should call down fire from heaven on some Samaritans who would not provide hospitality to Jesus and his disciples as they were passing through the territory (Luke 9:54).

John and James also aroused the ire of their fellow apostles by asking Jesus privately to grant them the privilege to sit on Jesus’ right and left in his Kingdom, in other words, having the places of greatest honour. And, when asked would they be able to go through an experience similar to that Jesus was about to face in his Passion, they boldly said they could. Jesus told them they were right but it would only happen after they had fully absorbed the way and thinking of Jesus. As for instance, when he told them that true greatness was not in having places of honour but rather in outdoing everyone in loving service to others.
The name John is traditionally linked with New Testament writing. Three different authors with the name John have been identified.
There is the author of the Gospel according to John and the First Letter of John, commonly referred to as John the Evangelist and also identified with John the Apostle. The authorship of books in ancient times was quite loose and the name attached to a book may not indicate that that person actually wrote it, although he may have inspired it in some way. However, the same person does seem to have authored these two books.
The Second and Third Letter of John have the same author, who calls himself the Presbyter or Elder and is sometimes identified with a person known as John the Presbyter.
The author of the Book of Revelation or the Apocalypse (a Greek word for ‘revelation’) calls himself John but the book’s whole way of thinking, style and content make it very unlikely he was the one who wrote the gospel. He says that, because of his Christian faith, he had been exiled to the island of Patmos but he does not claim to be John the Apostle, although some early writers so identified him.
The gospel according to John clearly emphasises the divine nature of Jesus, as both Light and Life and the Word of God incarnated into the human family. This gospel also puts love (agape, ‘) as the vital bond between Father and Son and between Christ and disciples and the bond between disciples. Traditionally John the Apostle wrote his gospel towards the end of his life, at the end of the first century.

Another tradition identifies John the Apostle with the Beloved Disciple in the gospel of John. This is questionable. The Beloved Disciple seems rather to represent the perfect or model disciple, one who has none of the defects and faults of the Twelve, all who reveal clear weaknesses, including John.
After the Resurrection John was prominent in the early Church. Not only would he have been among the early witnesses of the Risen Lord but also would have been involved in the early preaching. Chapter 3 of the Acts of the Apostles speaks of Peter and John going into the Temple to pray at 9 o’clock in the morning. At the Temple gate they saw a crippled beggar who was put there every day. When he begged money from the two Apostles, they both fixed their gaze on the man and asked him to look at them. Then Peter said to him, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, walk!” Then Peter pulled the man to his feet. He went into the Temple with them, walking and jumping about, and praising God. As the crowds gathered in wonder, this gave Peter the opportunity to preach to them about Jesus Christ. While they were still addressing the crowd, the Temple guard and some
Sadducees came and arrested the two Apostles and put them in jail for the night. The following day they were brought before the Sanhedrin and again Peter took the opportunity to speak about Christ and why they believed in him. Eventually, divided among themselves, their judges sent them away with a warning never to speak about Jesus again.
The last appearance of John the Apostle in the New Testament is in chapter 8 of the Acts. When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had “accepted the word of God”, Peter and John were sent to evangelise them. The people there had “only been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus” but the Spirit had not yet come down on them. The two Apostles then laid their hands on the people and they received the Spirit. “After giving their testimony and proclaiming the word of the Lord, [Peter and John] went back to Jerusalem bringing the good news to many villages of Samaria on the way” (Acts 8:25).
It is not certain how long John, with the other Apostles, would have stayed in Jerusalem. However, 12 years later, during the persecution of Herod Agrippa I, they would have scattered to other parts of the Empire. John may have gone to Asia Minor. It seems there was already a Christian community in Ephesus before Paul first went there and John has always been linked with that city. He would probably have returned to Jerusalem for the Council held in the year 51.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul refers to John, together with Peter and James, as “the acknowledged pillars”, in other words, the most prominent figures in the Jerusalem community (Galatians 2:9)
There is a long-standing tradition that John the Apostle settled in Ephesus. Various legends are told of him there by people like Clement of Alexandria. It was said he feared that the baths at which the heretic Cerinthus was bathing would collapse because he was in them. Or his repeated exhortation to his followers to love one another to the point of tedium. He emphasised it because “it is the word of the Lord and, if you keep it, that is enough”. Something similar to Augustine’s later saying: “Love and do what you like.”
An old tradition holds that John was banished by the Roman authorities to the Greek island of Patmos. According to Tertullian John was banished (presumably to Patmos) after being plunged into boiling oil in Rome and suffering nothing from it. It is said that the entire coliseum was converted to Christianity upon witnessing this miracle. (The vestments for John’s feast are white, indicating he is not regarded as a martyr.)
Artistic representations of John reflect other legends. He is shown holding a cup with a viper in it, calling to mind a challenge from the high priest of the Temple of Diana at Ephesus to drink a poisoned cup. In his role as evangelist his emblem is an eagle.
John is the patron of theologians, writers, and all who work at the production of books.
The dedication of the church of St John before the Latin Gate on 6 May commemorates his escape from being put into a cauldron of boiling oil under the Emperor Domitian.
Reflection
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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