Saturday of Week 7 of Easter – Gospel

Commentary on John 21:20-25

Peter has been given his mandate to shepherd the Lord’s flock and been fully rehabilitated after his sad betrayal earlier on. But it is still the same old, impetuous Peter.  Having heard about his own future, he now wants to know that of the “beloved disciple”.

Basically, he is told to mind his own business; it is no concern of his.  Jesus says enigmatically,

Suppose I want him to stay until I come, how does that concern you? Your business is to follow me.

As a result, Jesus’ words became distorted and were understood to mean that the “beloved disciple” was not going to die.  He would stay alive until the Lord came.  But this is strongly denied by the author of the chapter (it is believed that this final chapter is not by the author of the rest of this Gospel).

The New American Bible comments here:

“This whole scene takes on more significance if the disciple is already dead.  The death of the apostolic generation caused problems in the church because of a belief that Jesus was to have returned first.  Loss of faith sometimes resulted (see 2 Peter 3:4).”

Another very different explanation is possible if the “beloved disciple” is not identified with John but with the symbolic figure who represents the perfect follower of Jesus.  This person appears four times in John’s Gospel – and perhaps five, if we identify him with the unnamed disciple of John the Baptist who spent a day with Jesus in the company of Andrew (see John 1:35).  At this point, he is not called the “beloved disciple”, as he is just beginning to be a follower. Later in the Gospel, he is identified on four different occasions of special significance – leaning on the breast of Jesus at the Last Supper; standing at the foot of the Cross; going with Peter to the empty tomb on the day of the resurrection and understanding the meaning of the arrangement of the cloths (something which meant nothing to Peter). Finally, he is seen as the one who recognised as “the Lord” the stranger who told the disciples where the fish were to be found.

Hopefully, all through the history of the Church there will be “beloved disciples”, people who have lived out the Gospel to a very high degree.  And such people will continue to be found until Jesus finally comes to bring us all to himself.

For our own lives, in the light of this passage, we can ask ourselves once again what we see to be the mission that Jesus has for us at this time.  And secondly, while we do of course need to be responsible for the well-being of our brothers and sisters, our main concern is to focus on where God is calling us and not be too worried about what he expects from others.

On a final note, the author claims to have witnessed everything that has been written, but that it still is only a fraction of all the things that Jesus said and did.  We would indeed love to know what some of those unreported words and actions were, but we have more than enough with the existing texts to provide a challenge to us for the rest of our lives. And, with the imminent approach of Pentecost, we remember that the Spirit is there to continue teaching and guiding us and leading us ever deeper into the meanings of God’s Word.

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