December 27: St. John, Apostle and Evangelist


John was the son of Zebedee and Salome, and the brother of James the Greater. In the Gospels the two brothers are often called after their father “the sons of Zebedee” and received from Christ the honourable title of Boanerges, i.e. “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17).
Originally they were fishermen and fished with their father in the Lake
of Genesareth. According to the usual and entirely probable explanation
they became, however, for a time disciples of John the Baptist, and
were called by Christ from the circle of John’s followers, together
with Peter and Andrew, to become His disciples (John 1:35-42).
The first disciples returned with their new Master from the Jordan to
Galilee and apparently both John and the others remained for some time
with Jesus
(cf. John ii, 12, 22; iv, 2, 8, 27 sqq.). Yet after the second return
from Judea, John and his companions went back again to their trade of
fishing until he and they were called by Christ to definitive
discipleship (Matthew 4:18-22Mark 1:16-20). In the lists of the Apostles John has the second place (Acts 1:13), the third (Mark 3:17), and the fourth (Matthew 10:3Luke 6:14), yet always after James with the exception of a few passages (Luke 8:519:28 in the Greek text; Acts 1:13).

From James being thus placed first, the conclusion is drawn that
John was the younger of the two brothers. In any case John had a
prominent position in the Apostolic body. Peter, James, and he were the
only witnesses of the raising of Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:37), of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1), and of the Agony in Gethsemani (Matthew 26:37). Only he and Peter were sent into the city to make the preparation for the Last Supper (Luke 22:8). At the Supper itself his place was next to Christ on Whose breast he leaned (John 13:23, 25).
According to the general interpretation John was also that “other
disciple” who with Peter followed Christ after the arrest into the
palace of the high-priest (John 18:15).
John alone remained near his beloved Master at the foot of the Cross on
Calvary with the Mother of Jesus and the pious women, and took the
desolate Mother into his care as the last legacy of Christ (John 19:25-27). After the Resurrection
John with Peter was the first of the disciples to hasten to the grave
and he was the first to believe that Christ had truly risen (John 20:2-10).
When later Christ appeared at the Lake of Genesareth John was also the
first of the seven disciples present who recognized his Master standing
on the shore (John 21:7).
The Fourth Evangelist has shown us most clearly how close the
relationship was in which he always stood to his Lord and Master by the
title with which he is accustomed to indicate himself without giving
his name: “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. After Christ’s Ascension
and the Descent of the Holy Spirit, John took, together with Peter, a
prominent part in the founding and guidance of the Church. We see him
in the company of Peter at the healing of the lame man in the Temple (Acts 3:1 sqq.). With Peter he is also thrown into prison (Acts 4:3). Again, we find him with the prince of the Apostles visiting the newly converted in Samaria (Acts 8:14).

We have no positive information concerning the duration of this
activity in Palestine. Apparently John in common with the other
Apostles remained some twelve years in this first field of labour,
until the persecution of Herod Agrippa I led to the scattering of the Apostles through the various provinces of the Roman Empire (cf. Acts 12:1-17).
Notwithstanding the opinion to the contrary of many writers, it does
not appear improbable that John then went for the first time to Asia
Minor and exercised his Apostolic office in various provinces there. In
any case a Christian community was already in existence at Ephesus before Paul’s first labours there (cf. “the brethren”, Acts 18:27,
in addition to Priscilla and Aquila), and it is easy to connect a
sojourn of John in these provinces with the fact that the Holy Ghost
did not permit the Apostle Paul on his second missionary journey to
proclaim the Gospel in Asia, Mysia, and Bithynia (Acts 16:6 sq.).
There is just as little against such an acceptation in the later
account in Acts of St. Paul’s third missionary journey. But in any case
such a sojourn by John in Asia in this first period was neither long
nor uninterrupted. He returned with the other disciples to Jerusalem
for the Apostolic Council (about A.D. 51). St. Paul in opposing his
enemies in Galatia names John explicitly along with Peter and James the
Less as a “pillar of the Church”, and refers to the recognition which
his Apostolic preaching of a Gospel free from the law received from
these three, the most prominent men of the old Mother-Church at
Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9). When Paul came again to Jerusalem after the second and after the third journey (Acts 18:2221:17 sq.)
he seems no longer to have met John there. Some wish to draw the
conclusion from this that John left Palestine between the years 52


The Christian writers
of the second and third centuries testify to us as a tradition
universally recognized and doubted by no one that the Apostle and
Evangelist John lived in Asia Minor in the last decades of the first
century and from Ephesus had guided the Churches of that province. In
his “Dialogue with Tryphon” (Chapter 81) St. Justin Martyr
refers to “John, one of the Apostles of Christ” as a witness who had
lived “with us”, that is, at Ephesus. St. Irenæus speaks in very many
places of the Apostle John and his residence in Asia and expressly
declares that he wrote his Gospel at Ephesus (Adv. haer., III, i, 1),
and that he had lived there until the reign of Trajan (loc. cit., II, xxii, 5). With Eusebius (Hist. eccl., III, xiii, 1) and others we are obliged to place the Apostle’s banishment to Patmos in the reign of the Emperor Domitian (81-96). Previous to this, according to Tertullian’s
testimony (De praescript., xxxvi), John had been thrown into a cauldron
of boiling oil before the Porta Latina at Rome without suffering
injury. After Domitian’s death the Apostle returned to Ephesus during the reign of Trajan,
and at Ephesus he died about A.D. 100 at a great age. Tradition reports
many beautiful traits of the last years of his life: that he refused to
remain under the same roof with Cerinthus
(Irenaeus “Ad. haer.”, III, iii, 4); his touching anxiety about a youth
who had become a robber (Clemens Alex., “Quis dives salvetur”, xiii);
his constantly repeated words of exhortation at the end of his life,
“Little children, love one another” (Jerome, “Comm. in ep. ad. Gal.”,
vi, 10). On the other hand the stories told in the apocryphal Acts of
John, which appeared as early as the second century, are unhistorical

Christian art
usually represents St. John with an eagle, symbolizing the heights to
which he rises in the first chapter of his Gospel. The chalice as
symbolic of St. John, which, according to some authorities, was not
adopted until the thirteenth century, is sometimes interpreted with
reference to the Last Supper,
again as connected with the legend according to which St. John was
handed a cup of poisoned wine, from which, at his blessing, the poison
rose in the shape of a serpent. Perhaps the most natural explanation is
to be found in the words of Christ to John and James “My chalice indeed
you shall drink” (Matthew 20:23).


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