St John the Apostle
John and James were brothers, sons of a prosperous fisherman, Zebedee, probably from Bethsaida by the Sea of Galilee. They were young and headstrong. “The sons of thunder” was their nickname. They were both close to Jesus, and were privileged, with Peter, to be by his side on many special occasions. They were also ambitious. On one occasion, they got their mother to put in a good word for them with Jesus, as a guarantee for their future. The other disciples never forgave them for that!
All this changed after the Resurrection. The disciples had been shaken up by the arrest and death of their Master, even though John alone was by Jesus’s side as he died on the cross. The Resurrection caught them all by surprise and made them see life in completely new terms.
John himself was the first to recognize the “new” Jesus, both at the graveside, as well as by the lake. Three years before, he and Andrew had been the very first to meet Jesus. Now he is the very last to write down his memories of the Master in the remarkable Gospel which bears his name and confess “that if all were to be recorded in detail, the whole world would not hold the books which could be written” about Jesus.
Little else has come down to us about the personal life of John. Tradition says that he retired to Ephesus where he wrote his Gospel. There are three short epistles which bear his name, full of pastoral solicitude: “children, let us love not merely in words, but indeed and in truth.” “He who loves, has God’s life within him, for God is love.” “Brothers, if our heart reproaches us, God is greater than our heart, and knows everything.”
Then there is the last book of the Bible, the Apocalypse, also attributed to John. It’s a saga of victory for the Church after years of bitter persecution. Did he write it as well? Its style is so different, and its content so strange and mysterious, that we wonder.
John’s Gospel has been described as the most spiritual gospel. It speaks of Jesus as divine and all powerful. And yet, it begins with the Word of God taking flesh among us, becoming a human being just as we are. In this week of Christmas, there is no better guide than John the apostle and evangelist, to help us understand what this meant.
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