He played Damien’s father in The Omen, he rode a Vespa through the streets of Rome with Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, and in To Kill a Mockingbird, he told Jem, “Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” The number of awards he won for his acting, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, are too numerous to name. All that but there was a day when Gregory Peck was standing in line with a friend, waiting for a table in a crowded Los Angeles restaurant. They had been waiting for some time and the diners seemed to be taking their sweet time eating so new tables weren’t opening up. Peck and his friend were still back in the line a ways when Peck’s friend became impatient and said, “Why don’t you just tell the maitre d’ who you are?”
Gregory Peck responded with great wisdom. “If you have to tell them who you are, then you aren’t.”
I don’t know if you all saw it or remember it, but the picture on the bulletin last week (it was Jesus by Leonardo da Vinci) generated a great many interesting comments during the coffee hour, some of which guaranteed eternal damnation for the speaker, but aside from that, Jackie Johnson asked an interesting question unrelated to the picture of Jesus. On the Friday following Easter, she had read the lesson in the Forward Day by Day that is also included in our Gospel today: “[Jesus] said to [the disciples], ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’”
The “disciple whom Jesus loved”: Jackie wanted to know who this person was and it is a good question.
There are five instances when the “disciple whom Jesus loved” appears in the Gospel of John. It doesn’t appear in any of the others. The first occurrence takes place at the Last Supper. Jesus tells the disciples that one of them will betray him. Peter wants to know who. “The disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, ‘Ask him which one he means.’ Leaning back against Jesus, [the disciple whom Jesus loved] asked him, “Lord, who is it?”
The second instance occurs at the foot of the cross. There are several women there including Mary, the mother of Jesus. Scripture says, “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple [whom he loved], ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”
Three days later, at the resurrection, Mary Magdalene discovered the empty tomb, “So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!’” We know that Peter and this disciple then ran to the tomb to see for themselves.
Next is the occasion we read today: seeing Jesus on the beach, “the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’”
And the final occurrence is just a few verses on. Peter has been restored to Jesus after denying him three times and is now talking with him. Jesus has just told Peter how it is he will die, then “Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them…. When Peter saw him, he asked, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.’”
The disciple whom Jesus loved: near to Jesus physically and spiritually and one who was also a close confidant. Remained with Jesus while Jesus was in pain. Was given Mary as his mother and was given to Mary as a child. Ran to see the empty tomb and be a witness to the resurrection. Recognized Jesus when all others were only focused on their daily life. Designated by Jesus to have a special purpose, even eternal life. Who was this disciple?
We know that it was the person who wrote what we know as The Gospel of John, because the second to last verse of the Gospel, referring to this disciple reads, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.” Even though it is called the Gospel of John, some believe that the disciple whom Jesus loved could possibly be Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, or Mary Magdalene, or James, the brother of John, or perhaps some unknown disciple, but this is all more modern scholarship and in my opinion, a gimmick for selling books. Those such as St. Augustine and others who were much closer to the time of Jesus have always named the disciple whom Jesus loved as being John the Apostle, the brother of James.
If that is the case, then why would John not just come out and say it? Maybe he just held the same opinion as Gregory Peck, “If you have to tell them who you are, then you aren’t.” Perhaps it was humility. Perhaps it was this or perhaps it was that. We don’t really know, but maybe it was the way he felt about himself in relationship to Jesus. He believed in his heart that he was a person who Jesus truly loved. Charles Spurgeon writes, “If [John] had any courage, if he had any faithfulness, if he had any depth of knowledge, it was because Jesus had loved these things into him. All the sweet flowers which bloomed in the garden of his heart were planted there by the hand of Christ’s love, so when he called himself ‘that disciple whom Jesus loved,’ he felt that he had gone to the root and bottom of the matter, and explained the main reason of his being what he was.” (Source)
John could think of no other way of understanding himself and the changes that had occurred in his life than to say that he was one whom Jesus loved. Did he think he was the only one? No. He wrote earlier in his Gospel, “when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” John did not believe that he was the only one Jesus loved. He knew that Jesus loved all those that had been given to him. So what if, in not naming himself but saying, “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, John was wanting others to see themselves also as ones whom Jesus loved? More specifically, what if John wanted us to see ourselves as the disciple whom Jesus loved and to realize that all the sweet flowers that bloom in our hearts are the result of Jesus’ love for us? What if, instead of trying to figure out who the disciple Jesus loved was, you come to realize that it is you? You are the disciple whom Jesus loves. You are the one who is near to Jesus physically and spiritually and who is a close confidant to him. You are the one who remains with Jesus while he is in pain. You are the one whose mother is Mary. You are a witness to the resurrection. You are one who recognizes Jesus when all others are focused on their daily lives. You have been given a special purpose by Jesus and you have the promise of eternal life. No, “What ifs?” You are the disciple whom Jesus loves.
Our Gospel tells us that Jesus built a fire beside the sea and then prepared breakfast for his disciples. When all was ready, “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’” And then, “Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.” As the disciple whom Jesus loves, you also are invited to this meal. To break bread with the one who loves and defines you. Gather around the fire of the Holy Spirit and enter into this great love and come to know yourself as the disciple whom Jesus loves.
Let us pray: God of Goodness, we come into your presence so aware of our human frailty and yet overwhelmed by your love for us. We thank you that there is no human experience that we might walk through where your love cannot reach us. If we climb the highest mountain you are there and yet if we find ourselves in the darkest valley of our lives, you are there. Teach us today to love you more. Help us to rest in that love that asks nothing more than the simple trusting heart of a child. Amen.