Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist – Gospel

Commentary on John 20:2-8

From the Gospel, we know that John was the brother of James and the son of Zebedee.  He and his brother were among the first to be called (together with Peter and Andrew) by Jesus. 

Today’s Gospel reading describes the scene where Peter and the “beloved disciple” rush to the tomb of Jesus after being told by Mary Magdalen that the body is no longer there.  Although the “beloved disciple” got there first, he deferred to Peter who went in first and saw the burial cloths.  One of them – the piece that was wrapped around the face – was rolled up in a separate place.  When the “beloved disciple” went in:

…he saw and believed.

In other words, he understood the significance of the cloth and he knew that his Lord had risen.

Later, the Risen Jesus will say to Thomas:

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. (John 20:29)

Here the disciple did not see the physical Jesus.  Nevertheless, on the basis of what he did see, he believed.

The question is: what exactly did he see?  What he saw was that the cloth which had covered Jesus’ head was not with the rest of the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.  Why should that trigger his conviction that the Lord had risen? 

The book of Exodus (chap 34) describes how Moses, after coming down from the mountain and conversing with God, was so radiant with light that people were afraid to approach him.  And so, he put a veil to cover his face:

…but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off until he came out, and when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining, and Moses would put the veil on his face again until he went in to speak with him.
(Exod 34:34-35)

Now some believe that the word ‘veil’ used in John is a Greek translation of the word in Hebrew used about Moses.  In other words, the veil covering the face of the dead Jesus is now no longer needed because he has gone face to face with his Father.  This veil was the humanity of Jesus which enabled us to look at our God.  Jesus now has a new human body – his Church.  And that was what led to the “beloved disciple’s” conviction that his Master had risen to new life.

For some commentators, the “beloved disciple” is not actually John, but represents any person who has totally committed himself or herself to the following of Jesus, anyone who deeply believes and anyone who is passionately fond of Jesus.  At times, as in today’s Gospel, the faith of the “beloved disciple” is shown as surpassing that of Peter.  While the disciples we know of had fled after the arrest of Christ, it is the “beloved disciple” who stands with the Mother of Jesus at the foot of the cross.

Nevertheless, John as the author of the Fourth Gospel and the three letters attributed to his name, reveals a depth of faith and insight into the meaning of Christ’s life, death and resurrection that borders on the mystical and clearly reveals a faith of extraordinary depth.  It is a faith and insight we can pray to have for ourselves.

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