JESUS AND THE BELOVED DISCIPLE
Gospel of St. John Ch.21 vs20-23
As I have often said before, “we do not know a lot about this man”. Well, we do know quite a lot about Jesus through the Gospel of John, the Revelation to John and the three letters ascribed to his name, but who was John? According to the other Gospels, John was the brother of James who were the sons of Zebedee. Jesus referred to the brothers as "sons of thunder” so they were obviously dynamic followers from the start of his ministry. It is thought that John was perhaps the only disciple to die a natural death and most probably in forced exile on the island of Patmos. It was on this island that he received his Revelation, which is perhaps the most neglected book of the New Testament, but one that contains many jewels to help us with our faith.
The Gospel of John refers to the very special loving bond that a disciple had with Jesus and it is assumed that the author is that disciple. John and his brother James were evidently very close to Jesus and this brought about some jealousy amongst the disciples, as was evident when their mother asks that they might sit one at his right hand and one at his left when Jesus comes into his kingdom. (Matthew 20 v20-28) Although Jesus rebukes them and tells all of them that it is his Father who will reward them accordingly. Christ's mission on earth is not to apportion people's rewards but to suffer for their salvation. This very end of John's Gospel in an appendix that was probably added after the text was originally finalised at the end of Chapter 20, is another reiteration by John of his closeness to Jesus and perhaps a clarification of his long life. Perhaps he still felt slightly hurt that his fellow disciples were jealous of his closeness to Jesus and uses words of the resurrected Jesus to rebuke them. However, the most important and shortest sentence in this passage is what Jesus wanted us all to do when he said. “Follow me!”
This passage made me think about friendship and how important friends are to us. Having a close friend is important to all of us. For some of us that is our partner, or perhaps someone we have known for a long time. A true friend is someone who we know we can trust with confidences, someone who we can explain our faults and frailties to without feeling that we are being judged or condemned. A true friend is also someone who can bring their joys and griefs to you and expect them to be respected in confidence.
I am very fortunate in having a wife I love and who is my best friend I then have family, and I have several other close friends who know me well. I then have friends I know through Church and other organisations, and then I have acquaintances. Having been a member of the clergy for 34 years the number of people who “know” me is probably enormous. Truly close friends have to be few in number and they may change in time, but they are friends who I treasure greatly and hopefully they reciprocate the feeling. One inevitability of getting older is that we lose friends through their death and through isolation, through illness or disability. The loss of a close friend or partner is devastating, it is almost as though a part of us has died – that is true love and only God can heal such pain.
Jesus was a man as well as being the Son of God and true friends were precious to him. When I was preaching about Peter and John running to the empty tomb some weeks ago, I said that my instinct tells me that John was an introverted man. I still hold to that and think that his closeness to Jesus was because of that thoughtfulness and ability to empathise with him. The pain John must have felt when he watched Jesus die on the cross is unimaginable, but his pain was healed when he saw the resurrected and glorified Christ.
In the farewell discourses at the last supper, John emphasises the words of Jesus “I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father”. (John 15 v15) We are indeed friends of Jesus and that is the most special of all friendships, but it has to be a two-way friendship. I don't think our best friends would be best friends for very long if we kept forgetting, or even worse, betrayed them. Our friendship with Jesus must always be sacred. He loves you - love him and do his will – FOLLOW HIM. Amen.