Jesus’ Favorite…Er, Beloved Disciple

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City
St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

The next apostle up on our list is St. John, the brother of last week’s saint, St. James the Greater. St. John is an Evangelist, literally from Greek a “giver of good news”. Multiple early Church Fathers support the claim that St. John was the author of the 4th gospel, the Gospel of John (hence the name?), written before 95 AD.

John’s gospel is the same story as the others, obviously, but goes about recounting it in a very different way. It is a much more reflective, symbolic, and theological approach. In the eastern Churches, this gives him the name St. John the Theologian. In some ways, he seems to presuppose things already in the other gospels. For example, in John’s gospel, Jesus never says the words “This is my body” or “This is my blood.” Instead, John presupposes that and focuses on the meaning of the Eucharist – service (washing of the feet) and sacrifice (blood flowing from Jesus’ side on the Cross).

Anyway, in his own gospel, John refers to himself as the “beloved disciple”. He defines himself not by his own achievements, but by his relationship to Jesus. He is one of the core group of disciples, but had a special place in Jesus’ heart. We hear that he rested his head on Jesus’ breast at the Last Supper, and that he was the only apostle not to abandon Jesus. With Peter, he is the first to receive news of the Resurrection and go to the tomb, and we hear that “he saw, and believed.”

One of the greatest privileges that St. John was entrusted with was the care of Jesus’ mother – “Woman, behold your son. Behold your mother.” The tradition is that he cared for her in Jerusalem, and later in Ephesus in present-day Turkey. In fact, an ancient house in Ephesus is still commemorated as the home of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

You might recall from last week that it was John, along with his brother James, who had inquired about being seated at Jesus’ side, and that he would indeed drink the cup of suffering. John wasn’t martyred like his brother, but he experienced suffering in a different way. He supervised and governed the Church in Asia Minor (Turkey), and when persecutions broke out under the Emperor Domitian, was taken to Rome and boiled in oil! Or at least they tried, to boil him in oil, but nothing happened! He walked out of it, and the legend says that all the spectators in the Coliseum who witnessed the miracle were instantly converted. I suppose I would be too if I just saw some guy walk out of a vat of boiling oil!

Coptic Icon of St. John on the island of Patmos
Coptic Icon of St. John on the island of Patmos

St. John was exiled to the island of Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation, before returning to Ephesus, where his earthly life came to an end. For 900 years, the Basilica of St. John stood over his tomb, until it was destroyed by invading armies.

St. John was indeed the “beloved disciple,” and it is said that his parishioners grew tired of his sermons, because they relentlessly emphasized the need to “love one another.” But truly, we can see the courage and zeal that comes from a heart that knows God’s love for itself and gives entirely out of love for others. Do we know that love for ourselves? How do we live it? May St. John inspire us and pray for us, so that we too can claim our identity as beloved disciples!