Sun 25 February 2018

St John, Apostle & Evangelist

Wednesday 27 December

If there was ever an order of merit for saints then Saint John the Apostle would surely be right there at the top of the list. And yet, his feast day on December 27th, just two days after Christmas Day, passes almost unnoticed. Perhaps this is just what he would have wanted since in his gospel he only referred to himself anonymously as 'the disciple whom Jesus loved'. At first sight, such a description might suggest an air of exclusivity, but, in fact, John's purpose was quite the opposite - he wanted to diminish his own role in order to emphasise the true nature of his Master, Jesus Christ. He would entirely approve of his feast day being placed in the shadow of the most important birthday of all time.

So who was Saint John? We know that there was a John, the son of Zebedee, brother of James and a fisherman from Galilee. It was John who sat next to our Lord at the Last Supper. Such was our Lord-s confidence in the caring nature of John that, at the Crucifixion, it was to John that Jesus entrusted the care of his mother Mary. It was John who raced across the garden to the empty tomb and who followed Peter into the tomb and 'he saw and believed'. Again, it was John who, after the Resurrection, first recognised as Jesus the figure standing on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias. Then our certainty about John begins to evaporate.

It is thought that he was spared martyrdom and lived to a great age, spending his final years at Ephesus. His frailty became such that he could no longer preach the good news, but he would like to be carried down to speak to groups of followers and say very simply, 'Love one another. That is the Lord's command and, if you keep it, that by itself is enough'. Scholars still debate whether it is the same John or a number of Johns who wrote the Fourth Gospel, the three letters and the Book of Revelation.

We can perhaps just be thankful that we have such remarkable books in our New Testament. Clearly, the Fourth Gospel had a different purpose to the preceding three. John was writing for those who already knew the facts about Jesus, but who were looking for a deeper explanation of his overwhelming importance. For John, that Jesus was divine and was the Son of God was never in doubt and he saw that the life, death and resurrection of our Lord were all part of God's great scheme for the world. All put so wonderfully in the first verses of the Gospel we shall hear on Christmas Morning 'In the Beginning was the Word and the Word was with God'. Perhaps, after all, our modest, self-effacing saint for December is not entirely in the shadows on Christmas Day.

Richard Allen