Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved

The Feast of St. John, one of the original 12 disciples of Christ and the supposed author of the Gospel which bears his name, is celebrated on this day.

The sons of a Galilean fisherman, John and his brother James the Greater (thought to be the older of the two) were among the first disciples called by Jesus. Jesus nicknamed them "Boanerges," the sons of thunder, for the zeal which occasionally spurred them to reactionary excess, such as the time they wanted to call down fire from heaven to burn the Samaritan towns which did not accept Jesus.

Along with James and Peter, John was among the inner circle of Jesus' followers, the privileged confidantes who would witness Jesus' raising of Jairus' daughter from the dead, the Transfiguration (when Jesus went to the mountain top and was transfigured, his face and clothes becoming white and shining as light), and Jesus' final "Agony in the Garden" before his arrest.

In the 4th century, John was identified as the author of the fourth Gospel; John himself, it is surmised, is only referred to in the Gospel as "the disciple whom Jesus loved," leading to some speculation that it was a follower of John who wrote down John's oral recollections and actually compiled the Gospel. Nevertheless, early church fathers ascribed it to John, whom they identified with the eagle in Ezekiel's vision of God's retinue of beasts.

While the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke share a lot of the same basic material, the Gospel of John is notably different. The first 3 Gospels show glimpses of Jesus and do their best to illustrate his divinity, but John spells it out in no uncertain terms: Jesus is the son of God, the light and life of the world, and when John tells of Jesus saying "It is finished" just before his death and the rising of his spirit like the eagle with which John was identified, God's purpose for Jesus has been served. John's Gospel is also one of contemplation on the meaning of Christ's life on Earth, in particular on the importance of charity as a bond among members of Christ's community.

Tradition holds that John continued to be an important member of the early church after the resurrection, supposedly leading the mission of the church to Ephesus, where it is surmised that he wrote his three Epistles. Following the meditative vein of the fourth Gospel, the first Epistle articulates love as the essence of Christianity and the thing that separated this Faith from pagan traditions, while the second and third Epistles stress the importance of, and the difficulties with, defending the Faith against false propaganda.

The last book ascribed to John is Revelations, which is so different in style and orientation from the Gospel and the 3 Epistles that it is somewhat difficult to fathom it as the product of John or his followers; authorized versions of the Bible hedged their bets and called the author of Revelations "John the Divine" as opposed to "John the Apostle" or "John the Evangelist."

However, if one wished to equate all of those "Johns" as aspects of one beloved friend and follower of Christ who survived to old age (even surviving unscathed, according to legend, being dipped into boiling oil!), it is not difficult to imagine the scenario. Under the persecution of the Roman emperor Domitian, John the lifelong Christian agitator was banished from Ephesus to the distant, desolate island of Patmos. From its rocky hilltops, John addressed his divinely inspired revelations to his fellow sufferers in the Faith in order to comfort them, offering them hope through a vision of God in control of all time and in which Christ would achieve a final victory over Satan. As the supposed last survivor of Christ's inner circle, John the son of thunder had the most time on Earth to meditate on the meaning of Jesus' life and death as he had witnessed it -- the graduate most likely to become a divine seer and prophet.

While some sources say John eventually died in Ephesus, others says that he simply ascended to heaven; this view was apparently disfavored by the church, however, which took avid pride in finding relics of the disciples. One site in particular in Ephesus emerged as the official site of John's tomb. By the 6th century, the healing power of dust from John's tomb was famous, and a popular tradition (cited by St. Augustine) held that the Earth over his grave heaved as if John were still breathing underneath.

"He was not a vindictive man, but he wrote 'in the spirit' with a frightening sense of the reality of good and evil, a reality whose bitterness burned, but whose sweetness was inexpressible." -- R. Brownrigg, on John the Divine.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home