A happy feast of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, everybody. After slogging through another Advent filled with stories about John the Baptist yelling at everybody (but in the end, preaching and paving the way of the Good News of Jesus), we reached Christmas, and now we’re in the midst of the three great feasts that follow directly, St. Stephen, St. John, and the Holy Innocents.
I’ll admit that John is not my favorite Gospel to read straight through; John’s narrative is not as linear or easy to follow as Luke’s, say, but John’s Gospel has some great attributes. John gives us a glimpse of the Cosmic Christ, as we call Him, the picture of Jesus as the logos, the Word who was in the beginning with God, who was God, and yet became flesh and dwelt among us. John also gives us the very graspable, almost gritty Christ, the Jesus that John knew so well. A little bit about John:
John was the “son of Zebedee, with his brother James, and was called from being a fisherman to be a disciple and “fisher of men.” With Peter and James, he became one of the inner group of three disciples whom Jesus chose to be with him at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, at the Transfiguration, and in the garden of Gethsemane.
“John and his brother James are recorded in the Gospel as being so hotheaded and impetuous that Jesus nicknamed them “Boanerges,” which means, “sons of thunder.” They also appear ambitious, in that
they sought seats of honor at Jesus’ right and left when he should come into his kingdom; yet they were faithful companions, willing, without knowing the cost, to share the cup Jesus was to drink.
“If, as is commonly held, John is to be identified with the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” then he clearly enjoyed a very special relationship with his Master, reclining close to Jesus at the Last Supper, receiving the care of his mother at the cross, and being the first to understand the truth of the empty tomb.
“The Acts of the Apostles records John’s presence with Peter on several occasions: the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, before the Sanhedrin, in prison, and on the mission to
Samaria to lay hands upon the new converts that they might receive the Holy Spirit.
“According to tradition, John later went to Asia Minor and settled at Ephesus. Under the Emperor Domitian, he was exiled to the island of Patmos, where he experienced the visions recounted in the Book of Revelation. Irenaeus, at the end of the second century, liked to recall how Polycarp, in his old age, had talked about the apostle whom he had known while growing up at Ephesus. It is probable that John died there. He alone of the Twelve is said to have lived to extreme old age and to have been spared a martyr’s death.”1
John the Apostle and Evangelist was special even amongst lots of other special people. I think one of the special things about him is that despite his intelligence and ambition, despite being a bit of a poet, he never asked anything more of Jesus than what was presented to him. Let me explain that. John took Jesus as Jesus was and is; some commentators think John concentrated too much on the divine nature of Jesus, but I think they discount all the earthy stuff John gives us. The washing of feet, the overturning of the tables in the Temple, the brief but powerful note on Jesus crying over His friend Lazarus. And there’s not much more earthy and simple than today’s Gospel.
It’s sometime after the Resurrection; Jesus had presented Himself to the disciples, He had made a special trip back to them after Thomas missed out on the first visit, and He had been seen by many, including Cleopas and another disciple on the road and at supper at Emmaus. And then John gives us his last encounter before the Ascension, and it’s a barbecue of all things.
Having just witnessed the spectacle that is Christmas, the stars and shepherds and angels singing, as we gear up for the spectacle of the Epiphany, with stars and wise men and extravagant gifts, and having found Jesus and His manifold blessings contained therein, it’s nice to have this quieter feast of St. John. The same John who witnessed all the miracles, the Transfiguration, the Resurrection, and Ascension, chose to wrap up his gospel with a beach barbecue, our Lord serving as grillmaster ( I doubt He had a Kiss the Cook apron), showing us that the Lord finds us and provides for us wherever we are.
- Lesser Feasts & Fasts