“WHAT ABOUT ME?” (Jn 20:1a and 2-8): 27 December 2007 (St. John the Evangelist, Thursday)
Today we remember John the Evangelist, also known as the “Beloved Disciple.”Traditionally, the Church identifies him as one of the Twelve, one of the two sons of Zebedee, the brother of James.
In the recent Da Vinci Code controversy, he is the disciple who is bumped off from the Last Supper. As we know, the Dan Brown novel has claimed that the unbearded, feminine-looking figure that Leonardo Da Vinci painted to the left of Jesus is not John the Evangelist, as usually held, but Mary Magdalene, who is not mentioned in the gospel account of the Last Supper. As a result, John the beloved disciple loses his place at the table. I’ve often wondered how he feels about that.
The gospel reading today does no such thing. It mentions both Mary Magdalene and the so-called “beloved disciple.” On Easter Sunday morning, Mary rushes to Simon Peter and John to report the empty tomb. “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they put him,” she told them. Peter and John immediately run to the tomb, and while John, presumably the younger man, gets there first, he waits for Peter to go in before he follows.
It is this same disciple who is first to recognize the Risen Lord as a group of them come back to shore. Even Peter does not recognize the stranger who is preparing breakfast for the returning fishermen. Only when the beloved disciple exclaims that “It is the Lord!” that Peter springs into the water to swim towards the shore to get there ahead of everyone. Again the beloved disciple lets Peter go ahead of him.
The beloved disciple seems content to be in second place. Even in the last episode that mentions him in the Fourth Gospel, he is shown merely following Jesus and Peter as Jesus asks Peter to follow him and “feed his sheep.” When Peter realizes that his mission will entail some suffering, he turns around and gestures to John, asking Jesus, “What about him?”
It’s a question that John has learned not to ask of himself. From the looks of it, he does not think much about “what’s in it for” him. But it hasn’t always been the case. In a previous episode, he and his brother James approach Jesus to ask to be seated to his right and left, a request that earns them the other disciples’ indignation. John must have taken Jesus’ response to heart and has learned since then. Maybe that’s why he’s the beloved disciple, and maybe that’s why it is to him that the Lord, in his final moments, has entrusted his own mother.
We tend to think a lot about being first place and about “what’s in it” for us. We tend to ask, “What about me?” a lot. Maybe this is one thing that John the Beloved Disciple can teach us today: A little more humility so that it’s okay if we’re only second fiddle, and a little more selflessness so that it’s all right even if we lose our place at the table. Dag Hammarskjold calls it “transparency.” He writes:
“You will know life and be acknowledged by it according to your degree of transparency, your capacity, that is, to vanish as an end and to remain purely as a means.”
(image: detail from Da Vinci’s Last Supper)