The Beloved Disciple
John reclines next to Jesus at the Last Supper. Jn 13:25 says, “…leaning back close to Jesus’ chest…”, and reaffirms it in Jn 21:20 with, “the disciple Jesus loved… leant back close to his chest”.
It seems incidental; a nice detail, but easily glossed over. Placing one’s head on another’s chest has many implications. It is not only an act of affection, it also requires a boldness and confidence within a relationship, but the fact is that a heartbeat is only heard by placing an ear to the chest. John has a special relationship with Jesus not because John himself is “special” or favoured, certainly not any more than the other disciples, or than any of us for that matter. The specialness of that relationship is open to all of us, in fact, we are invited into it. The specialness is based on hearing Jesus’ heart speak to us as we sift and search through what we’ve seen and heard, and especially through what we’ve done and experienced. It is our experiences that shape us. Our responses form us. Our lives are the forge in which our fumbling to make sense of our experiences grows us into who we are. As we seek to follow Jesus, we strain to hear Jesus’ heartbeat in our choices, search for the heartbeat that is the key to which we dance the song of our lives, and strive to bring that heartbeat with us into our relationships.
Only love can speak to love.
Betrayal is a matter of the heart. It is a matter of love denied, and as love is denied, pain is birthed. Peter knew that. He nudged John to ask Jesus who will betray him. Why go through John? — Peter is typically the impetuous one who is first to speak up. Example after gospel example show us that Peter is not shy about speaking up. By nature of his personality, Peter has a leadership role among the disciples. He is considered the disciple of authority — he is the Rock upon which Jesus will build His Church [Mtt 16:18] — the first Bishop of Rome. Yet, Peter goes through John.
Jesus had made clear that He would not use His authority to stop the betrayal; He could not use God to subvert Love — it would be an impossible contradiction. Peter goes through John because betrayal is not a matter of authority, it is a wound to the heart. Authority, by definition, will find and punish betrayal — Peter was bluntly told that Jesus would have none of it. “Get behind me Satan!” [Mtt 16:23] is what Jesus said. Peter learns slowly and the hard way, as do we all, that for Jesus:
Authority is subverted by love…
Judgment, by forgiveness, and…
Punishment, by mercy.
Authority sets the rules and must respond with punitive justice.
Love, forgiveness, mercy are the realm of redemptive justice – these rule in God’s Kingdom. John looks at the world from the position of hearing Jesus’ heart. He listened for it as he no doubt struggled to make sense of the Man who so willingly broke the letter of the Law in order to be true to the Spirit of the Law. How can this be? – What is this new teaching? – Where does His wisdom come from? – What can it all mean? Jesus only begins to makes sense when His heartbeat is heard above any words spoken, or actions seen. It only begins to sink in when Jesus’ heartbeat animates our response to our world.
The wonder of our faith is the Trinity: God is Three; God is One. Jesus is God incarnate; His heart is the heart of God. Jesus says, “…the Son can do only what He sees the Father doing: and whatever the Father does the Son does too…”. [Jn 5:19-20] Theological explanations of the Trinity mire in complexities that in the end, do not bring us any closer to God because, “God…is…love” (1Jn 4:16). Love has no explanation. Love has no definition. Love has no physical existence. Love is to be expressed. If love is not lived, love is nothing. The proof of love is not in any material thing we can point to, it is in the way we choose to live our material lives – it is our “spirituality of the physical” that determines who we really are.
John grasped what he heard of the heartbeat of God, and he held the tension of it as he no doubt struggled to make sense of the Son of God, crucified. Our responses to the tensions of our lives reveal how well we’ve heard the heartbeat of Jesus, how closely we hold the tension within our own hearts, and how in tune our heartbeat is with the heartbeat of Jesus.
John learned that the Spirit of the Law is love. He lived that love; he passed it on to his community, and through them, to us… God IS love [1Jn 4:16]. That truth dawns on us so slowly, and so dimly. Yet that is the essence of spiritual life. It is the teaching of Jesus summarized. It is the hope that God has for us.
The wonder of our faith is the love within the Trinity that could not be held even within the Godhead, but demanded to be shared – and in that explosion of love, Creation came into being.
The wisdom of God is beyond anything that we can understand and explain because love is not for “explanation”; love cannot be “understood”. It cannot be manufactured and stored. It cannot be analyzed and quantified.
Love can only grow when it is given away, and only love can grow when it is given away.
Love is for giving.
Love is for accepting.
Love is for living.