At the last supper, the disciples were sharing the Passover meal with Jesus. As was the custom, they reclined on couches around a central low table. One of them, “the disciple Jesus loved”, was reclining next to him. Who was this who claimed so confidently that he was the One Jesus loved?
Later, at the foot of the cross, stands a little group of devastated people witnessing the horrific spectacle of Jesus’ crucifixion, including Jesus’ mother. Standing near her is, again, “the one whom Jesus loved”. Jesus, even in his agony notices her distress, and makes provision for her future. “Look after her as your mother, “ he tells this disciple.
Then on the morning of the resurrection, Mary of Magdalene comes running to find Peter, and “the disciple Jesus loved” to say that Jesus’ body had disappeared! They rush to the tomb, but the “other disciple”, ie the one Jesus loved, gets there first.
Twice more he is referred to in this way. After the resurrection, the disciples have returned to Galilee and are back in their boats, fishing. They are out all night and catch nothing. Dispirited and cold in the early dawn , they see a man on the shore who calls to them.
“Did you catch anything?”
“No”, they groan. “Have another go, try throwing the net on the right side of the boat”, he calls. They decide they have nothing to
lose, and fling it out again, only to find it fills with a vast shoal of fish! Light dawns! One, “The disciple Jesus loved,” says, “It’s the Lord!” Peter jumps into the water, leaving the others to get the boat and its massive catch up onto the beach, and they all have a wonderful breakfast with Jesus. Afterwards, Jesus has a private conversation with Peter, at the end of which Peter sees “the disciple Jesus loved” tagging along behind.
So no less than five times, this description is used. Right at the end of the Gospel he identifies himself, “This is the disciple who testifies to these things, and we know that his testimony is true.” Aha! So, as we have suspected, it is the author, John, who calls himself “the disciple Jesus loved.”
Why? Was he saying he was someone special? Some commentators don’t like it: it looks like Jesus was guilty of favouritism. Was he saying that Jesus loved him more than the others? That he didn’t really love them like he loved him? Why didn’t they stop him? Why didn’t Jesus stop him saying it? Why didn’t John quickly and self- consciously qualify his claim, “ Yes I know he loved others too”. Or, “Of course I wasn’t the only one!”
John lived to be a very old man. He lived in Ephesus where it is thought he took Jesus’ mother, Mary, to care for her as Jesus had instructed. He wrote three epistles, and they are all over-flowing with the love of God for us. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are!” He is delighting in this amazing love, and wants the church to be a context where it is supremely manifested, where brothers and sisters lay down their lives for each other. “We love because he first loved us.”
He knows that God loves all his children, not just him. But he wants us all to know that love as if we were the only ones. He remembers those far off days when “we heard, we saw with our eyes, we looked at, that which our hands have touched”—— the very Word of Life! Now we proclaim it to you….”
John knew he was loved, and he wanted everyone to know and experience this love too. But first, he knew it as though no-one else was there, as though he were the only one. Like Paul, who wrote, “The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me”. There are times when we experience Jesus’ love as if we are the only ones, as if he singles us out of the crowd, and everything fades as he says so tenderly, “You are the One I love”.