THE HEARTBEAT OF JESUS
Accepted opinion says that the “beloved disciple” is either John, or John’s disciples passing-on John’s teachings.
Interesting, but it also misses the point.
We like answers to these kinds of questions, as if they made a difference. As we preoccupy ourselves with pinning the facts down, we are distracted from seeing the wisdom of the mystery beyond them.
We often think of fact as the only truth. Scripture on the other hand, is full of great truths though not always “factual”. Consider Jesus’ parables — stories designed to convey truth and wisdom, though the stories themselves are pure fiction.
The Gospel of John purposely leaves the identity of “the disciple Jesus loved” unanswered. Scripture is always looking to tell a greater truth, always drawing us in to search for what makes a real difference in our lives.
John sits 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 detail, easily lost. Yet it is the lens through which all of John’s gospel should be understood.
We are told that John is the one who put his head to Jesus’ chest. Placing one’s head on another’s chest has many implications. It is not only an act of affection, it also requires a certain boldness and confidence within a relationship.
John dares to assume that relationship.
There is one other obvious truth, and that is that a heartbeat is only heard by placing an ear to the chest.
A heartbeat — THE heartbeat, of Jesus.
John dares to presume that he knows Jesus’ heart.
Is the story historically true — did John actually put his head to Jesus’ chest …does it really matter?
The wisdom-truth of “the disciple that Jesus loved” is the point being made — he “…leant back close to His chest”, and he heard THE heartbeat.
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, heard, and learned, and especially through what we’ve 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 that heartbeat that is the key to which we dance the song of our lives, strive to bring that heartbeat with us into our relationships.
John did hear that heartbeat, and he made that heartbeat his own. Only love can speak to love.
Betrayal is a matter of the heart. It is a matter of love denied. As love is denied, pain is birthed.
Peter knew that.
He nudged John to ask Jesus who will betray him. Why would Peter go through John? — Peter is typically the impetuous one who is first to speak up (blurt out what’s on his mind, also fits).
He is the one who steps out of the boat to walk on the water (and then promptly sinks the moment he takes his eyes off Jesus [Mt 14:29-30]).
He is the one who answered Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life… you are the Holy One of God”.[Jn 6: 68-69].
He is the one who replies to Jesus, [Jn 16:16-17] “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. Jesus acknowledges the statement with, “Simon son of Jonah, you are a blessed man! Because it was no human agency that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven”.
Peter is not shy about speaking up.
By nature of his personality, Peter has a leadership role among the disciples. He is also 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 on this one?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 clearly told that Jesus would not tolerate it. “Get behind me Satan!” [Mtt 16:23] is what he heard when he protested that Jesus should not die.
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.
To put it another way:
Authority sets the rules and must respond with punitive justice.
Love, forgiveness, mercy are the realm of redemptive justice.
The difference is as far as east is from west.
John leans against Jesus’ chest and hears His heartbeat, and he is at peace.
John looks at the world from the position of hearing Jesus’ heart. The reality of that heartbeat echoes in John’s mind and in John’s own heart. It flows out of every page of the gospel attributed to him.
John did hear that heartbeat, and he brought it with him, everywhere.
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? – How can He speak with such confidence? – Where does His insight 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 the events of our lives and of our world.
John certainly did hear Jesus’ heart in what he saw and heard Jesus do – the evidence is in every paragraph of John’s gospel.He saw that Jesus’ fidelity to love was fidelity to His true self, something that no one can take away; it can only be shared. Jesus would not deny it.
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 placed his head on Jesus’ chest… and heard the heartbeat of God. John grasped what he saw and what he heard, and he held the tension of it. That tension is always and everywhere, but nowhere more evident than in Jesus’ response to His betrayal… and through to His death.
We all have our betrayals, our trials and mini-crucifixions, and inevitably our death. 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.