I don’t mean to spoil anything, but let me go ahead and apologize now for what regular readers of Late2Church may begin to think is a theme-week on John. Due to forces out of my control, the Lectionary chief among them, we find our topic to be John both last Sunday and today AND this coming Sunday. Yes, John is an important character in the Gospel. Yes, he plays a significant role in the spread of the Church. But, by the end of the week, we might find ourselves scraping the bottom of the larder. Consider yourselves warned.
I’ve always thought of St.John as the mascot of the disciples. In western art, John is frequently portrayed as a younger disciple. He rarely wears a beard and often has softer, more classically feminine features. None of the great masters ever explain their reasoning, but it seems to me that the sense of John having been younger than the other disciples has several roots.
(1) John, along with his brother, James, are still working for their father, Zebedee when Jesus calls them. This may signal that neither of them have reached the full stature of adulthood in the ancient world. They can, in this way, be compared with Simon (Peter) and Andrew who are simply listed as brothers who work together. There is no mention of a father. Simon even appears to be marries (i.e. has a mother-in-law).
(2) The person who author’s the Gospel according to St. John claims to be the same person as the character John the Apostle in the story itself. Apart from his having some interesting insight into internal narratives and scenes in which the character John was not present, we have no reason to doubt this claim. However, the author’s knowledge of events happening late into the first century and the overall impact of the Gospel message suggest that the work itself was written many many years Jesus’ resurrection. Thus the author would have been very old at the time of the writing and would also have to have been very young at the time that the events took place.
(3) John is refereed to as “the beloved disciple.” While this only occurs in the Gospel that bears his name and is therefore, ultimately a self-reference, it suggests a unique relationship between Jesus and John. The term “beloved” suggests deep affection and intimacy without any sense of a peer relationship or romance. The only type of relationship that I can imagine that fits this description is that of an older sibling for a younger or even the friend of an older sibling for the kid-brother or sister of their friend.
So today we remember the powerful and church-changing legacy of St. John: Apostle, Evangelist and Mascot of the Disciples. May we, like John have the grace to find and embrace our unique place within the community of the faithful.