“The disciple whom Jesus loved.”
The first time we read the reference, we smile. The way that the Apostle John describes himself is actually rather charming. He doesn’t use his own name or refer to himself as “I” or “me;’ instead, he uses that phrase: “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” a recognition of whom Jesus was and what he did, and what he did for John. We read it, we nod, we agree with the sentiment, and then we go on.
Maybe we should stop and reconsider.
I love reading John’s gospel, possibly because it was the first thing I read after becoming a Christian. I return to it again and again, because of its personality and because it seems so personal, and because John always seems so astounded by what he’s writing about. He brings a sense of wonder and the miraculous to the gospel story. It’s no coincidence that John’s gospel is often the first thing recommended for new believers to read.
And there’s that phrase he uses to describe himself – “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” It’s attention-grabbing, especially for a new believer, likely because you don’t know immediately who the disciple is. And John doesn’t actually say until the very final verses of the gospel.
He uses the phrase five times (13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7 and 21:20). What I find striking now, some decades after becoming a new believer, are the contexts in which the phrase is used – always in association with someone else – four times with Peter and one with Mary, and all five with Jesus (including the one at the empty tomb). John asks a question of Jesus on behalf of Peter; he’s given responsibility for Mary by Jesus; he’s running to the tomb of Jesus with Peter after being told by Mary Magdalene that the tomb was empty; he recognizes the resurrected Jesus while fishing with Peter and the other disciples; and he dispels a rumor that starts when Jesus “reverses” Peter’s three denials into an affirmation of ministry.
In other words, John doesn’t use the phrase only to describe his relationship with Jesus. He does that, of course, but he also uses it to describe himself, his relationship with Jesus, in the company of others.
To be a disciple, to experience the love of Christ, is not just a “me” thing.
Wanted more than pull of net, more
than straining of moving
weight, more than the
iron smell of fish.
Wanted more than pierced
blues of mirrors reflecting,
glistening from the sea. Wanted
not reflections but sun.
Then voice, eyes, call touching
inside my soul, icing my
heart like mountain snow.
Chose us, twelve.
Did not know the
disciples he loved until
the day of death
(To see other posts on the word “love,” visit the blog carnival at http://www.bridgetchumbley.com/.)