Dear Brothers and Sisters:
We dedicate today’s meeting to
recall another very important member of the apostolic college: John, son of Zebedee and brother of James. His name, typically Jewish,
means “the Lord has given his grace.” He was mending the nets on the
John is always part of the restricted group that Jesus takes with him on certain occasions.
He is with Peter and James when Jesus, in Capernaum, enters Peter’s house to cure his mother-in-law (see Mark 1:29); with the other two he follows the Master into the house of the synagogue official Jairus, whose daughter would be called back to life (see Mark 5:37); he follows him when he goes up the mountain to be transfigured (see Mark 9:2); he is by his side on the Mount of Olives when before the imposing Temple of Jerusalem he delivers the discourse on the end of the city and of the world (see Mark 13:3); and, finally, he is close to him when in the Garden of Gethsemane he withdraws to pray to the Father before the passion (see Mark 14:33). Shortly before Passover, when Jesus picks two disciples to send to prepare the room for the Supper, it is to him and to Peter that he entrusts this task (see Luke 22:8).
This prominent position of his in
the group of the Twelve makes somewhat understandable the initiative that his
mother took one day: She approached Jesus to request that her two sons, John
and James, might sit one at his right hand and one at his left in the Kingdom
(see Matthew 20:20-21). As we know, Jesus replied by posing a question in turn:
He asked if they were willing to drink the chalice that he himself was about to
drink (see Matthew 20:22).
The intention behind these words was to open the two disciples’ eyes, introduce them to the knowledge of the mystery of his person and broach their future call to be his witnesses to the supreme test of blood. Actually, shortly afterwards, Jesus clarified that he had not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (see Matthew 20:28).
In the days following the Resurrection, we again find the sons of Zebedee fishing together with Peter and some other disciples on a night without results. After the Risen One’s intervention, came the miraculous catch: It is “the disciple whom Jesus loved” who is the first to recognize “the Lord” and to point him out to Peter (see John 21:1-13).
Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, presents him next to Peter while they go to the Temple to pray (Acts 3:1-4,11) or when they appear before the Sanhedrin to witness their faith in Jesus Christ (see Acts 4:13,19). Together with Peter he is sent by the
In particular, we must recall what he said, together with Peter, before the Sanhedrin, during the trial: “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). This very frankness in confessing one’s faith remains an example and a warning to us all to be ready to declare decisively our unshakable adherence to Christ, putting our faith before any human calculation or interest.
According to tradition, John is
“the beloved disciple,” who in the fourth Gospel leans his head against the
Master’s chest during the Last Supper (see John 13:25), is found at the foot of
the cross with the Mother of Jesus (see John 19:25) and, finally, is a witness
both of the empty tomb and of the presence of the Risen One (see John 20:2,
We know that this identification is disputed today by experts, some of whom see in him merely the prototype of the disciple of Jesus. Leaving it to the exegetes to resolve the matter, we will be satisfied here with drawing an important lesson for our lives: The Lord wishes to make of each one of us a disciple who lives in personal friendship with him.
To do this, it is not enough to follow and listen to him exteriorly; it is also necessary to live with him and like him. This is possible only in the context of a relationship of great familiarity, penetrated by the warmth of total trust. It is what happens between friends: This is why Jesus said one day: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. … No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:13, 15).
In the apocryphal “Acts of John,” the apostle is presented not as the founder of churches or even as the head of established communities, but as a continual wanderer, a communicator of the faith in the meeting with “souls capable of hoping and of being saved” (18:10, 23:8). All is driven by the paradoxical desire to make people see the invisible. In fact, the Eastern Church calls him simply “the Theologian,” that is, the one who is able to speak in accessible terms about divine things, revealing an arcane access to God through adherence to Jesus.
Devotion to John the Apostle grew
strong starting with the city of
Precisely in the East he enjoyed and still enjoys great veneration. In Byzantine icons he is often represented as very old and in intense contemplation, almost with the gesture of one who invites to silence.
In fact, without sufficient
recollection, it is not possible to approach the supreme mystery of God and his
revelation. This explains why, years ago, the Ecumenical Patriarch of
Constantinople, Athenagoras, the one Pope Paul VI
embraced at a memorable meeting, affirmed: “John is at
the origin of our loftiest spirituality. Like him, the ‘silent ones’ know that
mysterious exchange of hearts, invoke the presence of John and their hearts are
inflamed” (O. Clement, Dialoghi con Atenagora,
Turin, 1972, p. 159).
May the Lord help us to join the school of John to learn the great lesson of love so that we feel loved by Christ “to the end” (John 13:1) and spend our lives for him.