ST. JOHN THE APOSTLE AND EVANGELIST AND CHAROSET (Apple Date Walnut)
Vladimir Borovikovsky, 1809
St. John the Apostle and Evangelist was born several years after Jesus in Bethsaida in Judaea. He is the brother of James and the son of Zebedee. He is remembered as being Jesus’s Beloved Disciple. Tradition holds that St. John the Apostle is the author of the Gospel of John, Letters (or Epistles) of John 1, 2 & 3, and the Book of Revelations. After a long life spreading the Word of Jesus Christ, he died a peaceful death in Ephesus in modern-day Turkey. He is honored in the Roman Catholic and Anglican (including Episcopal) Churches on December 27, and in Eastern Orthodox Churches on May 8 and September 26.
I understand now how important it was for me to have read all the gospels in full before writing biographies of the Gospel Saints, because even if a passage doesn’t specifically mention the Saint I’m studying, the four versions together show how the characters relate and affect each other’s stories.
El Greco, 1600
For example, because I could never before understand how John could be at the foot of the cross when all the other male disciples were in hiding in fear of their lives, I interpreted that to be a patriarchal edit of the Gospel of John and that it was really Mary Magdalene into whose care Jesus gave his mother.
Recently, I read John 18:15-18 in which John refers to himself as “another disciple” who was “known to the high priest” and was allowed into the high priest’s courtyard to witness the questioning of Jesus after the Last Supper.
Ah ha. John had special consideration. That’s why he was the allowed to be at the foot of the cross along with the women. There are several other updates/edits I have had to make to my Mary Magdalene post now that I know her story in fuller context after reading the entire Gospel of John.
Anyway, because I quoted many biblical scenes where John appears in St. James the Elder, St. John the Baptist, St. Andrew, St. Philip, St. Mary and St. Martha of Bethany and St. Mary Magdalene; I’m not going to quote all those passages again here but instead invite you to click through to explore these posts whenever it appeals.
It has to be written that, generally speaking, the version of Jesus in John’s Gospel is narcissistic and anti-Jewish. I mean, he spends an awful lot of time pontificating about how wonderful he is and how bad the Jews are for not following him. Read the whole thing yourself. You’ll see the trend. I blame the editors.
Speaking of which, although most Church’s liturgical calendars honor St. John the Apostle as the author of the Gospel of John, the three Letters of John, and Book of Revelations, many modern-day biblical scholars believe otherwise. If he did write the Gospel of John, whatever he wrote was mostly edited to the point of no longer being his original words.
Thankfully though, there are many passages in the Gospel of John where Jesus shows up as a caring and loving member of His community. Let’s explore some of those scenes through the character and point of view of John, the Beloved Disciple.
John was the son of Zebedee and a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee. John, and his friend Andrew became disciples of John the Baptist. One day, John the Baptist pointed to his cousin, Jesus, and said, “There goes the Lamb of God.” So, John and Andrew spent the day with Jesus listening to his teachings. They both introduced their brothers to Jesus.
Soon after, Jesus chose them all, Andrew, Simon Peter, John, and James as disciples and called them away from their fathers and their former lives. They followed him. He referred to John and James as Sons of Thunder for their over-the-top enthusiasm, and rebuked them when they wanted to call down fires from Heaven to destroy a village that wouldn’t accept Jesus as a guest.
They witnessed Jesus perform his first miracle when he turned water into wine at the Wedding at Cana.
They witnessed Jesus heal Peter’s mother-in-law from a fever, so she could get up and cook for them.
Jesus allowed only John, James, Peter, and Jairus to witness His secret miracle of raising Jairus’s daughter from her recent death. “Stop wailing, she is not dead but asleep.” Luke 8:52
John, James, and Peter witnessed the Transfiguration of Jesus when Moses and Elijah appeared to talk with Jesus about what was about to happen to Him and through Him in Jerusalem. John, James, and Peter witnessed His glory and heard a voice from the clouds say, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” Luke 9:43
Another time, when the disciples were arguing about which of them was the greatest, Jesus shows them how a little child was the greatest and should always be welcome.
John showed his understanding of this concept by letting Jesus know that they stopped someone outside the group from casting out demons in His name. Jesus stood looking at him with His hands on His hips and shaking His head for a while. Then He said, “Do not stop him, for whoever is not against you is for you.” Luke 9:50
They followed Jesus when He took on the temple courts for being corrupt, and they witnessed Him perform many miracles and create more followers out of people who could finally change their negative or ineffective ways in life because Jesus showed them how.
They witnessed him perform more miracles and teach/argue with Jewish authorities.
John and James were so inspired by Jesus that they asked Him to give them special consideration as His closest companions. Jesus was all, you don’t want the cup you are asking for because it’s filled with suffering. They insisted they were up for it. The ten other Apostles were all, what the heck, dudes? That’s so narcissistic of y’all. Jesus then taught that if anyone wanted to be remembered for being great, they needed to lead a life of service.
They were with Jesus when his friend Lazarus died, He comforted Mary and Martha, and He wept for his friends. And then, they witnessed Jesus perform the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead.
They were reclined at the table when Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus with expensive oil and spread it on His feet with her hair.
They followed Him to Jerusalem and listened as He predicted his own death and uncomfortably allowed Him to wash their feet at the Last Supper.
Then we get to this scene at the Last Supper where Jesus predicted His betrayal by one of the Twelve:
“I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’
I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”
After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”
His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”
Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”
Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”
Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.
So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night. John 13:18-30
(For my thoughts on Judas Iscariot, betrayal, and the spiritual journey, see Bonus Material below.)
Now, let’s zoom into the part of this sad passage with John and Peter. I find comfort in the relationship between John and Peter, and their relationship with Jesus.
Anonymous, Circa 1650
Musea Nacional De Belas Artes
After three years of being a part of Jesus’s inner circle during his traveling ministry, there remained in Peter a sense of awe that prevented him from speaking difficult words directly to Jesus. So, he nudged John to do it. “Ask him which one he means.” I find this character flaw in Peter endearing because in a way, oh yeah, that’s so me.
John, on the other hand, doesn’t refuse or hesitate. Not only does he ask the difficult question, “Lord, who is it,” but he leans into Jesus while he’s doing it.
This is such an intimate moment embedded in the darkness of betrayal. A betrayal so unexpected, no one at the table could comprehend what Jesus was saying about Judas Iscariot. Their minds simply wouldn’t allow it. John’s trust in Jesus was solid. While Peter feared a scolding for not understanding, John leaned into the One who would explain it to them. There’s a lesson in that for all of us.
Sometimes life gets turbulent. So turbulent we can’t comprehend what is happening. Then someone might tell us to pray. And we wonder, in reality, how’s praying going to help me?
That’s when we are to follow St. John’s example and lean into Jesus with all our trust and all our listening, so deeply that we can feel Him holding us up no matter what we are facing and what we have to endure to get through it.
In the next scene, Jesus predicts Peter’s denial of him three times, but then He comforts them all and promises to send them the Holy Spirit to act in His stead with them. Lots of lessons, reassurances, and prayers happens next.
Then Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane and commands Peter, John, and James to follow Him deeper into the garden and stay awake while He prays. Alas, they they couldn’t stay awake for him. Considering how confused, frightened, and in denial they probably were, sleep was a necessary escape no matter how much Jesus was disappointed and offended by their behavior.
After Judas Iscariot identified Him to the authorities, Jesus was arrested. John was allowed into the high priest’s courtyard because he was “known to him,” and using that special consideration, he convinced a servant girl to let Peter in where he, in fact, denied knowing Jesus three times.
Jesus is questioned, sentenced to be crucified, and crucified. And then:
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. John 19:25-27
After Jesus died and was placed in a tomb for three days, Mary Magdalene discovered the tomb was empty:
She came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him!” John 20:2
So, Peter and John ran to the tomb, checked out the scene, agreed with Mary Magdalene that there was no body in it, shrugged, and then went back to the house where they were staying. Because men.
Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene wept and questioned the gardener. The Risen Jesus appeared, spoke, and comforted her. Following His instructions, she ran to announce this news to the others. That’s why we honor her as the Apostle to the Apostles.
Soon the Risen Jesus appeared to the rest of the Apostles, with a special showing just for Thomas who missed the first one, then He helped them fish and cooked them a meal. As they ate, He significantly forgave Peter for betraying Him and instructed him to lead His people. Jesus predicted Peter’s martyrdom and that John wouldn’t suffer the same fate.
After the Ascension and Pentecost, John is shown preaching and traveling with Peter in Jerusalem in the Book of Acts (3:1, 4:3, 8:14). Some believe he sheltered the Blessed Mother Mary until her Assumption into Heaven, according to a Roman Catholic Dogma. Some believe this event to have occurred in Jerusalem. Others believe that they traveled with Mary Magdalene to Ephesus where they preached the Word and died peaceful deaths.
My point is that John was a pretty busy fellow for someone who was responsible for being the protector of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. I bet she took care of her own self, traveled, and preached, and that it was Mary Magdalene who was her day-to-day companion and caretaker in her later years.
Either way, some time after Blessed Mother Mary died, according to a book called “Prescription of Heretics” by Quintus Tertullian, in a grand show, Roman authorities plunged St. John into a vat of boiling oil which he survived without injury. Many witnesses to this miracle in the Colosseum immediately converted to Christianity. He was then banished to the Greek island of Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation.
Much later, near the end of his long life, it’s believed that St. John taught Polycarp who became the Bishop of Smyrna and Ignatius of Antioch who became the Bishop of Antioch, both of whom rippled St. John’s message of the Word of Jesus Christ down through the ages.
In his Letters, Paul refers to Peter, James, and John as “Pillars of the Church.”
Shed upon your Church, O Lord, the brightness of your light, that we, being illumined by the teaching of your apostle and evangelist John, may so walk in the light of your truth, that at length we may attain to the fullness of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. Collect, Book of Common Prayer
At the Last Supper, it’s likely that with John leaning into Him, Jesus dipped a piece of bread into a bowl of olive oil before He handed it to His betrayer. Although, it’s entirely possible that the bowl contained a traditional Passover dish. In which case, let’s honor St. John the Apostle and Evangelist by making:
15 pitted dates
2 medium Granny Smith apples
2 cups (about 8 oz) toasted walnuts
1/3 cup of 100% grape juice or sweet wine such as Manischewitz
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt
Chop dates, place in large bowl. Peel, core, and dice apples into small pieces, add to bowl.
Toast shelled walnuts on a baking tray for a few minutes. Be careful not to burn. Chop and add to bowl.
Add grape juice, honey, cinnamon, and salt. Stir to combine.
Let flavors meld for at least 30 minutes. Serve with unleavened bread such as matzo, homemade pita bread, or naan (as in the photo).
I try to keep my spiritual journey posts separate from my saint biography posts, but I’m practicing letting go of that self-imposed criteria. By their very nature, saint biographies are spiritual journeys, and their recipes for spiritual living guide us along our own path.
As you many know from my recent posts Whole Again and Getting Past Your Past, I’ve recently gone through a rough patch in my life. Reality hit me hard, ultimately in a good and healing way, but whoa, the process was extraordinarily difficult.
The worst part being my facing what I couldn’t face before, the reality that my narcissistic ex-husband emotionally checked out of our relationship the moment he understood that I refused to adore him for his obsessive running and workaholism when I newly demanded that he begin treating me appropriately and communicated that love was a verb and he needed to love me like a functioning adult loves their spouse.
This angered him. But not enough to initiate divorce. He left that task and social stigma up to me. And, when I did it with great fear and confusion due to years of unrecognized psychological abuse, he was simultaneously gleeful to be able to toss me aside like a bag of garbage, and enraged that I would dare to believe I was deserving of what our state laws and legal trends deemed to be my share of our marital financial assets. His ongoing rage caused him to financial abuse me for two years.
Now that my head is clear and I understand this reality, much as Peter and John understood the betrayal of Judas Iscariot when they watched it happening in the Garden of Gethsemane, I’m just now understanding the level of betrayal my ex-husband reached – in the way he treated me throughout our marriage and by breaking his promised to love me “in sickness and in health till death do us part.”
I didn’t recognize this before in our 31-year relationship because he treated me the same way my abusive mother treated me. Since it was familiar, I considered it normal.
Of course, I also understand, through copious research during the last two years, that as a narcissist, he is incapable of empathetic love. He can only mimic it.
I’ve suffered much during this past month as I processed all the realities around me that I couldn’t handle before. I’ve calculated that I’ve been actively and consciously on a spiritual journey going on five years. I was feeling so frustrated and so “no fair” about how much and how long I’ve suffered and how much I’ve lost along the way.
And then, I happened to buy a bottle of Honest Just Green Tea with my lunch two days ago, and the bottle cap spoke to me:
“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” – André Gide
Ah. That’s right. I had forgotten this part. The night in the above passage from John, “And it was night,” can last an almost unbearably long time. That led me to understand how much betrayal factors into the spiritual journey.
You know, another way to say, “spiritual journey” is “hero’s journey.” It’s a literary term and so much a part of humanity’s mythology that it’s considered an archetype which we recognize almost as if it’s coded into our DNA.
As C.S. Lewis learned via a friend:
All that stuff of Frazer’s about the Dying God. Rum thing. It almost looks as if it had really happened once. — SURPRISED BY JOY, page 223
Lewis had become aware of the possibility that Jesus’s life on earth fit so snugly into mankind’s ancient myth template that the truth of Christ on earth would resonate down through the ages due to the familiarity of ancient beliefs. While his imagination chewed on that meaty concept, his rational mind was shocked by the possibility that a fellow atheist could, upon research and questioning, change his beliefs. (See my full post on C.S. Lewis here.)
God became incarnate in Jesus by plunking Himself into the form of the familiar hero’s journey specifically as His way of speaking to us in our own language.
Despite the atheist’s insistence on believers being so blind as to not see that the Jesus story is just another story and not verifiable truth, our True God knew exactly what He was doing when He sent His only Son to us.
Back to betrayal and how important an ingredient it is to the spiritual journey — a betrayal, in some form or another, is what usually launches a spiritual journey. Further, as we begin to change and grow into strong spiritual human beings, some people in our lives don’t like our new or true selves. So, they hurt or leave us in a variety of ways, some of which are full-on betrayals.
How could Judas Iscariot, after being chosen by Jesus and following Him for three miraculous years of ministry betray Him in such an absolute way?
It’s argued by some that Judas knew Jesus’s full power, and he wanted to set Jesus up so that He would be forced to use His divinity to stage a Jewish rebellion against the Roman Empire.
Or, as John writes above, “As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him,” and made him do it.
Or, he did it for the money.
What?! Judas betrayed his rabbi unto death for the money?! Okaaaaay. Maybe he had a mental glitch about money.
In the end, it doesn’t matter why Judas did it. It only matters that Jesus Christ overcame the betrayal in a glorious miracle we continue to celebrate every day and especially on Sunday.
I often turn to the Lord of the Rings as an example in movie form of the Spiritual Journey that can motive us to call up courage deep within us to take on terrible and difficult challenges on our journey.
Gollum betrayed Frodo. Gollum and the influence of the evil ring psychologically abused Frodo to the point of his own betrayal of Sam when he believed Gollum’s lies about Sam and sent him away. But, in the end, Frodo battled Gollum and destroyed the ring, and Sam returned to rescue Frodo from death, “Gimme your hand. Take my hand. Don’t you let go. Don’t let go. REEEEEACH!”
(Here’s the LINK to these scenes. Spoiler alert: These are the final scenes of the trilogy.)
I dunno. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that I have found a certain relief in understanding how important an ingredient betrayal is in a true spiritual journey. In other words, I’m feeling pretty much okay with what happened as I wrenched myself out of the dysfunctional programming of my childhood and the psychological abuse of my marriage.
It was never supposed to be easy; because, if it had been easy, it wouldn’t have been a spiritual journey.