Many of us have heard St. John the Evangelist described as “John the Beloved” or “the Beloved Disciple,” a title arising from the tradition that he was himself the disciple referred to in his own Gospel as “the disciple that Jesus loved.” If this is the case, it would seem St. John had a special friendship with our Lord.
But such an amazing relationship is not only for the Evangelist. We are all called to be friends of Christ. Though we’ve probably heard this before, we may not often think through what it means; so let’s examine how He invites us to this friendship and what it implies.
John 15:13-15: “I Have Called You Friends”
The NABRE lists the following as the translation for these verses. The one verse to which we should pay the closest attention is verse 13.
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father (John 15:13-15).
Jesus calls His disciples his friends, and us inferentially as we all follow Jesus. What is one of the hallmark virtues of friendship? Love. How is love expressed and nurtured? In giving—not just of things, but of oneself.
To use a simple example, you and two other neighborhood kids have known each other since middle school, through high school and college. You and the first kid have an acquaintanceship which is casual, friendly, but essentially superficial. After college, you may think of this person as school reunions come around, but maybe not.
You and the second kid have become, since the start, deep, caring friends. You have known each other’s heartaches, cried each other’s tears, laughed at each other’s silliness, shared each other’s secrets, and been there for the major events in life—marriage, a celebration of the birth of the children, perhaps even shared vacations. You get together as you can, when you can—text, letter, card, email, call, or visit, even though you now live 1500 miles apart. Should anything happen to this person, there would be a massive void in your heart, in your life, and indeed in the world. You two share a deep, meaningful love.
Our Relationship with Christ Jesus
The relationship we maintain with Christ Jesus, or at least the one for which we should strive, needs to be deeper, stronger, more intimate and more invested than any other relationship here on Earth. His condition is quite simple: “You are my friends if you do what I tell you.” What is the last thing He told us to do? “Love one another as I have loved you.”
I will not, can not, and dare not try to compare my performance with anyone else’s. All I know is that in my case, I depend upon Confession and forgiveness to cover my rather massive shortfalls, but I struggle to improve with each passing day.
So now, we know that Christ called us His friends, and we know that one of the hallmarks of friendship is Love. It is time to explore a practical application of this.
Many years ago, when I was in grammar school, the nuns told us that “the disciple Jesus loved” was John, and read the various verses to prove that point. For the longest time, I felt that since John had written this Gospel, he was just giving himself a pat on the back by saying, “Yup, He loved me much more than the other guys.”
There are at least five points in the Gospel where we hear this phrase; e.g., “Peter and the disciple that Jesus loved raced to the tomb…” “At the foot of the cross were Mary, His mother, and the disciple that Jesus loved…”
Spiritual writers have commented that “the disciple Jesus loved,” while literally meaning St. John, can also be understood spiritually to include every faithful Christian. What does this mean for us?
Jesus loved all His disciples, but He had a special relationship with John. Perhaps this is because John was especially receptive to that deep, intimate love. We may learn something from him about what it means to be a friend of Jesus.
The Disciple That Jesus Loved
On Good Friday, John was the only one of the apostles who followed Jesus even to the foot of the Cross. We know he was afraid that day because he fled along with Peter and James in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:50), but in the end, his love overcame his fear and he stood beside his Lord even in the darkest hour. Friendship with Jesus, then, means complete faithfulness, following Him regardless of what it may cost us.
There, on Calvary, Jesus entrusted His Mother to John, “and from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (John 19:27). John was privileged to care for the one who was closest to the Lord on earth. But we need not envy him, because we too, by Jesus’ generous grace, have Mary for our spiritual mother. Friendship with Jesus means bringing Him, and His Mother who is also ours, into our inmost lives, into everything we do.
Two days later, when Mary Magdalene reported that the tomb was empty, John and Peter ran all the way from their hiding place in Jerusalem to see for themselves. John reached the tomb first, though he waited until Peter caught up before going in. Probably they, like Mary Magdalene, were worried someone had taken their Master’s body. We are not told what went on in their minds, except for two verses near the end of the passage:
Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead (John 20:8-9).
John didn’t understand the predictions of the Resurrection, in either the scriptures or Jesus’ own words but only after the fact did he really grasp the earth-shattering fact that Christ really did rise from the dead. The ramifications would be felt across the globe and reverberate through history.