Becoming the Beloved Disciple
A Meditative Reading from the Gospel of John
Prayerfully read the text:
When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus; so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, “Tell us who it is of whom he speaks.” So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. (John 21-26 RSV2-CE)
Michael J. Gorman in his book Elements of Biblical Exegesis explains that meditating on the text is “chewing on it.” Prayerfully ask, What does the text say to us individually? What is it saying to the community? Recall that by virtue of our baptism, we become part of the body of Christ, we become disciples of Him.
Who is this disciple “whom Jesus loved?” Fr. Donald Senior in his lectures on the Gospel of John explains that tradition has identified this disciple as John the Apostle, the author of the text who is too humble to name himself. Modern scholarship suggests that John wrote this disciple as an archetype of the perfect model of discipleship so that each reader of his gospel can read themselves into the narrative account; however, each view is not mutually exclusive.
For purposes of this meditative prayer exercise, the latter academic opinion will be used to engage the text. So, take a moment, close your eyes and imagine being in the upper room sitting next to Jesus. You’re reclining at Jesus’ side, which culturally indicates you’re the host of this Passover feast. Jesus says, ““Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
Look around the room, What is the reaction of the other disciples? Confusion? Fear? Suspicion?
Ask yourself, do other members of the Church cause these reactions from you? Does the Body of Christ, who are both clergy and laity, have they created confusion? Is there fear of the current state of affairs? Are we suspicious of one another in the Church? The truth is that any time we choose to sin, we betray Christ.
In this moment of confusion, you notice that Simon Peter is trying to get your attention by nodding to you. You know what Simon Peter wants by his nodding; after all, you’ve spent three years together following this strange and mysterious rabbi around Judea. So, ask Jesus… “Master, who is it?”
Take another deeper look at this text. How did you ask Jesus this question? The text reads, “So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him.” Fr. Dan Crosby in his retreat lectures on the Beloved Disciple analyzes this particular text very closely. Fr. Crosby makes an acute observation of the text by juxtaposing what the text actually says compared to most of the masterpieces of art depicting the scene. Fr. Crosby notices that artist depictions have the beloved disciple at the breast of Jesus looking up at Jesus which is an unnatural pose, whereas the gospel text has the ear of the beloved disciple on the heart of Christ looking in the same direction with Jesus; looking out into the world when asking, “Master, who is it?”
Meditate: Desire the will of God
◦Becoming the beloved disciple means keeping our ear close to the heart of Christ when engaging in our everyday tasks both in the world and in our parish community. In fact, this observation is a theme throughout John’s Gospel and his First Letter (2:15-16):
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever.
Meditate: The Mission of the Church
The disciple who Jesus indicates will betray Him is Judas Iscariot. What else does the Gospel of John tell us about Judas? Judas is introduced in John’s narrative account in Chapter 12 near the end of the Book of Signs. After Jesus resurrects Lazarus from the dead, which is greatest of all of the signs or miracles of Jesus in the Gospel of John, Jesus and the disciples were guests having supper at the table of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. Mary appears in the narrative account with what is described as a costly ointment and anoints the feet of Jesus with the ointment and her hair. What is Judas’ response? Judas says (v. 5), “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”
How many in the parish whether sitting on the Parish Council or the Finance Committee has either heard or said, “Are we being ‘good stewards’ by spending our money on such and such ministry?” Is it the point of the parish to turn a profit? Or to be in the green? The Gospel of John indicates the motive of Judas is no concern for the poor but rather simply the concern of finances (v.6), “This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it.”
The mission of the Church and each parish community is certainly to reach out to the poor, but it’s simply a part of the mission (1b) which must be followed after the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ (1a) which is the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. The Church teaches that faith in Christ is a twofold movement of the intellect assenting to things not self-evident and acts of charity. If there is nothing but a concern for (1b) with the mission of the Church then the Church becomes nothing more than a secular NGO. There is something more profound at work here within in the Body of Christ.
Let Us Pray:
O’ Lord, You who reveal to us Your will by the words of Sacred Scripture, let the wisdom of Your Word call each one of us to a deeper conversion of faith by desiring to follow more closely with our ears ever on the Sacred Heart of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let each one of us by listening closely to Your Heart conform our wills to Your will seeking to go forth and proclaim the good news to all people as You desire all men to be saved. Amen.