Beloved disciple always near Jesus
John, alone, remained at the foot of the cross.
He was steadfast in his devotion to the end.
“John was the one apostle who didn’t abandon Jesus at his passion,” says the Rev. Paul Counce, pastor of the Cathedral of St. Joseph. “Traditionally, he was the closest affiliation to Jesus. He wasn’t the leader, but he was the beloved disciple.”
Leonardo da Vinci reflects this in his 15th-century mural, “The Last Supper.” John, according to Scripture, sat beside Jesus, and he’s been sitting at Jesus’ right hand in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan, since the late 1400s.
John was the disciple to whom Jesus entrusted the care of his mother, the apostle who was always there, even as a witness to Jesus’ transfiguration.
His feast day is celebrated Dec. 27, and he is symbolized by the eagle, whose upward flight symbolizes Christ’s resurrection. The apostle also is known as John the Evangelist because of his writings.
“We probably know more about John than any other apostle, because he wrote the Gospel of John, along with three letters,” Counce says. “And it’s believed he wrote the Book of Revelations.”
There is no attribution to John at the beginning of “Revelations,” but there is a notation that it was written by “The Beloved Disciple.”
John and his brother James were among the first to be called by Jesus as disciples.
“John is often portrayed in art as the youngest disciple,” Counce says. “It’s believed that he lived longer than the others.”
John, it is believed, was not martyred, as were the other apostles, except Judas, who tradition holds committed suicide.
James, also known as James the Great, and John were sons of Zebedee.
“Originally they were fishermen and fished with their father in the Lake of Genesareth,” the Catholic Encyclopedia on newadvent.com states. “According to the usual and entirely probable explanation, they became, however, for a time disciples of John the Baptist, and were called by Christ from the circle of John’s followers, together with Peter and Andrew, to become His disciples (John 1:35-42).”
“It’s remarkable that someone who started out a simple fisherman ended up as author of such a big part of the New Testament,” Counce says. “That’s not to say a fisherman couldn’t be a scholar. There’s no reason to suspect that he would be illiterate. And it’s because of his writings that we know so much about John.”
For instance, John’s is the only of the four Gospels that doesn’t begin with Jesus’ ministry from his infancy.
“It begins with eternity,” Counce says. “John writes that Christ existed before the conception, before the birth, because he was God. He always emphasized the miracles of Jesus as signs revealing who he was. And some of these signs we see only in John — turning water into wine and raising Lazarus from the dead. John had a unique perspective and stories to tell.”
That’s not to say John was present at every moment of Jesus’ ministry.
“Some of these stories may have been told to him by the other disciples who were there,” Counce says. “But his writings reveal his priorities and his humility.
“We see his humility in how ‘Revelations’ is attributed to ‘The Beloved Disciple’ instead of his name.”
But his most enduring characteristic is his devotion.
“Only he and Peter were sent into the city to make the preparation for the Last Supper (Luke 22:8),” the Catholic Encyclopedia says. “At the Supper itself, his place was next to Christ on Whose breast he leaned (John 13:23, 25).”
According to the general interpretation, John was also the “other disciple” who, with Peter, followed Christ after the arrest into the palace of the high-priest (John 18:15).
And John alone stood at the foot of the cross during the crucifixion and took Mary into his care.
“Church tradition says Mary lived in John’s home the rest of her life,” Counce says. “She lived there even when John went to Palestine.”
“After the Resurrection John with Peter was the first of the disciples to hasten to the grave, and he was the first to believe that Christ had truly risen (John 20:2-10),” the Catholic Encyclopedia continues. “When later Christ appeared at the Lake of Genesareth, John was also the first of the seven disciples present who recognized his Master standing on the shore (John 21:7).”
John stood by Jesus until the end, so it may be understandable that he would be the first to recognize Jesus in a new beginning and continue his discipleship by spreading the message through his writing.