This year in BSF we’ve studied the Gospel of John. I’d studied John before, but the thing that really struck me this time through was how John refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
It probably would have been a lot easier to say “I” or “me,” but John chose to call himself, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He must have had a reason.
Some people think this habit of John’s is a bit proud. What? Did John think he was special? that Jesus didn’t love the other disciples?
I think it’s just the opposite. I think this strange reference to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” shows great humility. And I love the transformation in John’s life that it represents.
John was a young man when he walked the dusty roads of Bethsaida and Capernaum and Bethany with Jesus. John was one of the guys arguing about who would be the greatest in Jesus’ kingdom (Mark 9). John wanted to be great. He wanted a high position in Jesus’ kingdom.
Matthew (20) tells us that John’s momma approached Jesus to ask him if her sons, James and John, could sit at His right and at His left in His kingdom. Mark (10) tells us that James and John came to Jesus and made the request themselves. Most likely, James and John and their momma went together and asked Jesus for this honor. I think this little anecdote is pretty telling about James and John and their family dynamic and their aspirations, most likely instilled in them from their mother. Maybe she was the first stage-mother, pushing her boys to make names for themselves. They expected Jesus would set up an earthly kingdom, and they wanted to be Vice President and Secretary of State (or something like that).
Just as he was interested in making a name for himself, John was also interested in protecting Jesus’ name and reputation. Mark tells the story (chap. 9) of a man casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Concerned that he wasn’t a part of the inner circle of disciples and may not be legit, John told him to stop.
So, as a young man, John wanted to make a name for himself in helping usher in the Messiah’s kingdom. He wanted power and a position of authority and importance. He wanted a good reputation and didn’t want to be associated with anybody who seemed a little looney. John loved Jesus and was following Him and was obviously interested in what Jesus was doing; but John was also very interested in John.
I can understand this very well. I love Jesus. I’m involved in His work. But I also am very interested in Jennifer. I like feeling like I’m in a position of power in my own life. I want to protect my own reputation and I care about others’ opinions of me. To be honest, I spend a lot of time thinking about Jennifer.
But here’s what I love. By the time John was an old man and wrote this book, he has gotten over his interest in making a name for himself. He’s gotten so over it and beyond it that he doesn’t even name himself! He calls himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
You see, John has stopped looking out for himself. Now, by the time he wrote his gospel, he sees himself in relation to Jesus. He sees himself as God the Father sees him, as a man loved by the Son. The Father sees us through the lens of Christ’s love. And that is how John finally saw himself, through the lens of Christ’s love — “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
This shift in John’s thinking, his change of perspective, gives me hope. By the time I am an old woman, perhaps I will think less of myself in terms of Jennifer and, instead, see myself through the lens of Christ’s love. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll stop thinking of myself as Jennifer and, instead, think of myself as “that girl Jesus loves.”