It’s a mystery

Here is a mystery: who is “the disciple whom Jesus loved?”

No one seems to know. He (she?) is never named in the gospel of John, and he shows up late. He is reclining next to Jesus at the supper where Jesus washes the disciples’ feet (not every culture uses a table and chairs). When Jesus said that one of them would betray him, Peter got this “disciple whom Jesus loved” to ask Jesus who it was…and Jesus told him. The “disciple whom Jesus loved” was at the foot of Jesus’ cross along with Jesus’ mother, Mary, and other women. This disciple also beat Peter in a race to check out the empty tomb and was the first to “get it,” to realize that Jesus had risen from the dead, not that his body had been stolen. Then we see him again fishing with the disciples, and in the middle of this endeavor the “disciple whom Jesus loved” is the first to recognize that the stranger on the beach is the risen Jesus himself. He then tags along behind Peter and Jesus who are having a final serious conversation. He has an uncanny ability to be nearby. Finally in the closing verses we hear that this disciple whom Jesus loved is the one who has been telling us the Jesus stories and teachings all along in the gospel of John. But who is he (she)?

If I were to write a piece of fiction based on this mystery, I would write him as a very old man writing the gospel, telling for the last time his unique stories about the Lord. But I would portray him as a youth of 12 or 13 at the time he accompanied the rag-tag group of disciples, maybe someone’s younger cousin needing a place to be, maybe someone who had lost a parent. That would explain why the other disciples were not jealous of the closeness that he seemed to have with Jesus (and yes, the disciples did get jealous about things like that): no one would begrudge a youth getting special attention. It would explain how the disciple could get to stand and watch while Jesus was dying on the cross; the older disciples didn’t or couldn’t show up without being in danger for their lives, but a youth was not a threat to Rome. It would explain why Jesus, who had other brothers, told his mother from the cross that the beloved disciple was her son and that she was a mother to this disciple. Maybe it wasn’t about Mary needing “taken care of.” Instead a mother losing her son and a youth losing a mentor he loved might need each other. And what about the race to the tomb? If the beloved disciple were young, he could easily beat an older guy. I’m assuming there was some social protocol back then, so I’ve decided this disciple isn’t a female since he was fishing with the guys in John 21 and Peter had shed clothes to do the fishing. (When Peter hears from the beloved disciple that the stranger on the beach is Jesus, he puts on some clothes and jumps into the sea to get to shore…Go figure)

It’s all speculation, but after walking so many miles on the trail while learning by heart the words of Jesus through this disciple’s book, I can’t help but wonder about who he is. I feel like I know him a little bit. And if he were to be sitting incognito in a coffee shop and we just casually struck up a conversation, young or old, I would recognize him right away.