John, Apostle and Evangelist
December 27, 2015 A+D
St. John 21:20-25
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This day celebrates the son of Zebedee, brother of James, one of the Lord’s first disciples, a fisherman. For some reason he has the nickname “Son of Thunder” (Mark 3:17). He is one of the most prominent disciples, being in the inner circle of “Peter, James, and John.” He calls himself the disciple whom Jesus loved. We count him as the author of the Gospel of John, the first, second, and third letters of John, and the Revelation to St. John. Because he is one of the original twelve, among those who received the Spirit in the upper room on Easter, and who was sent to make disciples by baptizing and teaching, he is called an apostle. Because he wrote one of the Gospels, he is called an Evangelist.
His Gospel is everyone’s favorite. He tells long, detailed stories, that the other Gospels don’t include like the Resurrection of Lazarus and the changing of water into wine at Cana and the coming of Nicodemus by night. Meanwhile he skips the birth the Narrative and the Institution of the Lord’s Supper. He ends his Gospel with the reading for today – the bit about Peter looking back and seeing him. And then the Lord enigmatic words about John’s remaining until the Lord returns. He wants to make sure we know that doesn’t mean that he won’t die.
The main point in the scene today is that Jesus knows what He is doing. There is a law application to this. Peter gets a bit of a rebuke. He wants to know what will happen to John. The Lord’s response, paraphrased, is a favorite line of mothers everywhere: “Mind your own business.” What is his fate to you? You follow Me.
Even as we are not to worry, so also, we are to avoid comparing ourselves to one another. Crosses are custom-made. No one is spared. We are tempted to look at others and think they have it easy. Look at John. Why doesn’t he get tortured like Peter? Why isn’t he fed to the lions? Is it because Jesus loved John more than Peter? Or John is better at being a Christian, more winsome? Why do our friends have it so easy? Why do our mothers seem to prefer our brothers?
These are the seeds of envy. Envy is one of the stupidest, ,most useless, and self-sabotaging of sins. It is discontent or unhappiness because someone else is happy. It is sort of the polar opposite of Schadenfreude. That means to be happy when someone is sad. We are sinfully happy when an annoying co-worker gets a flat tire. That is evil. It is not becoming of a Christian. Our sadness when that same co-worker gets praise from the boss also evil. Both those things are out of line with the Lord’s command that we love our neighbors as ourselves.
Peter is on the very brink of his headship of the Church on earth. He is the chief apostle. But he asks a very childish question. Jesus doesn’t play that game. John suffers in ways that are unique to John and uniquely painful. What may not have been painful to Peter, or at least that which Peter might have thought looked easy, is devastating to John. It is the chastisement that John needs.
The Lord’s special bond with John and his sparing of John a violent martyrdom doesn’t mean that He loved Peter less than John. It means that the Lord loves John and Peter in just the way that each of them needed, that He loves them precisely, counting every hair on their heads, knowing the unique potential and goodness of each who is made in His image. The Lord does not love with generic love, but with a knowing, deliberate love.
He loves you more than even your mothers, even though He knows you better than your mother does, even though He has seen what you do in secret. So don’t look about for what He does to or for others. Instead of envy, cultivate sympathy. They have it worse than you know. They are all suffering because no Christian avoids the cross. No one, not one, gets out this life unscathed. There are times when the weight is less or more, but there is never a time before the Resurrection when any of us is free of sorrow. Don’t be fooled by Christmas letters. There is probably some psychological study somewhere that shows the more a person boasts in a Christmas letter the more dysfunctional his family is. When you encounter that behavior let it call you to compassion not anger. Imagine how sad a man’s life is if he feels he must brag about it. You follow Jesus.
There is also a kind of defense of John’s Gospel and His other writings in these final verses. Even as Peter doesn’t need to know everything about either John’s fate or even his own fate, but simply needs to follow Jesus, so also we don’t need to know every detail of Jesus’ life and every miracle He performed. We need to know that He is the Son of God, glorified on the cross where He reveals Himself to us according to His mercy, and who is raised from the dead for the forgiveness of our sins.
We don’t know if things will get worse or better. Days of persecution could be coming, but so also do crosses come from far more sources than tyrannical governments. John’s slow and lonely death might have been worse than Peter’s upside down crucifixion. We know this: there will be sorrow. There will be heartache. But God will use it for good. He will teach us that this is not our home, that we don’t belong here. He will continue to teach us to follow Him.
Jesus didn’t belong here either. He came unto His own and His own received Him not, but as many as did receive Him and believed in His Name He gave the right to become the children of God. He came to get His own, to pull them out of this world, to bring them to the promised land they were waiting for. So you – follow Jesus.
Following Jesus is a passive activity. Hear His Word. Receive the Sacrament. Be forgiven. You don’t find your own way to heaven. The Bible isn’t a roadmap of instructions. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He paved the way and He leads. You follow Him, who is Your Advocate with the Father, the firstborn of the dead, the ruler of Kings of earth, the propitiation of your sins. Follow Him.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.