Good Friday - Gospel Meditations and Prayers for Lent
Thursday April 17th, 2014
John 18:1 - 19:42
"Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved, standing beside her"
All four Gospels report the presence of several women at the cross, keeping vigil during Jesus' final hours. Only in the Fourth Gospel, however, do we encounter a male disciple-described simply as "the disciple whom Jesus loved."
This disciple features prominently in the latter half of the Gospel. At the last supper, he was seated next to Jesus, where he was in a position to convey Peter's question (13:21-26). He was probably the unnamed disciple in the courtyard of the high priest (18:15-18), who, unlike Peter, openly acknowledged that he was a disciple of Jesus (note the emphatic "also" in verse 17). After the resurrection, he and Peter run together to see the empty tomb, but the Beloved Disciple is the only one who "believes" (20:3-8). Later, on the Sea of Galilee, it is the Beloved Disciple who first recognizes Jesus on the shore and proclaims to Peter: "It is the Lord" (21:7). And since, unlike Thomas, the Beloved Disciple was able to believe that Jesus had been raised even before seeing him, he serves as the prototype of all those--ourselves included--who have "come to believe" without having Thomas's opportunity to see him face to face (20:29).
In the Beloved Disciple, then, we have an example of an almost ideal disciple: close to Jesus; spiritually perceptive; prepared to be identified as a disciple of Jesus, even in a dangerous situation; faithful to the end.
But what about Peter? In some ways Peter suffers by comparison, especially in the scene at the foot of the cross where he was conspicuously absent. Yet this is not the last word. Jesus seeks him out, gently gives him the opportunity to replace the three--fold denial with a three--fold declaration of love, and gives him his own role in the shepherding of Jesus' flock (21:15-19).
As we enter into the darkest part of the Christian story, then, John's Gospel presents us with two models of discipleship. The first-that of the Beloved Disciple-is one to which we are called to aspire, even as we know how often we fall short. The other--that of Peter--is one from which we can draw comfort when we do.
Gracious God, give us the courage to stand faithfully with the Beloved Disciple at the foot of the cross; when our courage fails, give us the grace to experience with Peter the reconciling mercy of Jesus. Amen.
Dr. Terry Donaldson
Lord and Lady Coggan Professor of New Testament Studies, Terry has published four books and about thirty-five journal articles or chapters. His current research project has to do with ethnicity, identity and the emergence of Gentile Christianity.