29 juin 2014

Jn 21:20-25. Destiny, writings and testimony of the disciple whom Jesus loved



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Email: josleminhthong@gmail.com
June 30, 2014.

Contents

I. Text of Jn 21:20-25
II. Context and structure of Jn 21
III. Analysis
    1. The disciple whom Jesus loved
    2. The will of Jesus for the disciple whom He loved
    3. Writings and testimony of the disciple whom Jesus loved
IV. Conclusion


I. Text of Jn 21:20-25

The text of Jn 21:20-25 below is taken from Revised Standard Version - Second Catholic Edition (RSV-SCE).

20 Peter turned and saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?" 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, "Lord, what about this man?" 22 Jesus said to him, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!" 23 The saying spread abroad among the brethren that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?"

24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true. 25 But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

II. Context and structure of Jn 21

The ch. 21 of John’s Gospel is supposed as an addition by the redactor of the Gospel. He added the second conclusion 21:24-25. The first conclusion of John’s Gospel is 20:30-31. Jn 21 describes the relationship between Jesus and the two greatest figures of the Johannine community: Simon Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved. This chapter is structured in four units:

(1) 21:1-14. Jesus appears to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. The principal characters of the story are Simon Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved. They will be presented in the following units.

(2) 21:15-19. Thrice, Jesus asks Simon Peter to acknowledge his love to Him and also, thrice, Jesus tasks Peter to take care of his sheep (21:15-17). Then Jesus foretells that Peter’s death is to glorify God (21:18-19). But at that time, the mission of Peter is to follow Jesus (21:19; cf. 21:22).

(3) 21:20-23. Jesus expresses his will for the destiny of the disciple whom He loved. Jesus says to Peter in 21:22a: “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” This saying is repeated twice (21:22.23b) to emphasize his mystery. Like Peter, this disciple is also a Jesus’ follower (21:20).

(4) 21:24-25. The redactor writes the second conclusion which is based on the writings and testimony of the disciple whom Jesus loved.

III. Analysis

We will analyze the character whom Jesus loved in the two last units (21:20-23 and 21:24-25) through three points: (1) The disciple whom Jesus loved. (2) The will of Jesus for this disciple. (3) Writings and testimony of the disciple whom Jesus loved.

    1. The disciple whom Jesus loved

The verb “follow” (akoloutheô) links the destiny of Peter with the destiny of the disciple whom Jesus loved. At the end of the second unit (21:15-19), Jesus says to Peter: “Follow me” (21:19b). And in the beginning of the third unit (21:20-23), the disciple whom Jesus loved is also in the role as a follower. The narrator relates in 21:20a: “Peter turned and saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved.” In 21:22b, Jesus asks Peter again: “follow me”. By insisting on the idea “following Jesus”, the story wants to show that, “to follow Jesus” is a characteristic of a true disciple whatever he is the chief of the disciples (Peter), or close to Jesus (the disciple whom Jesus loved). Every disciple of Jesus is invited to follow him in all circumstances: being persecuted (Peter), or bearing testimony to Jesus (the disciple whom Jesus loved).

The disciple whom Jesus loved in 21:20-23 is identified by referring to other story in 13:21-31: “Announcement of Judas’s Betrayal”. In 21:20 the narrator recalls of two details: (1) The first one is the privileged place, close position of this disciple next to Jesus: he had lain close to Jesus’ breast at the supper (21:20b) // 13:23. (2) The second detail is his question to Jesus: “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” (21:20c) // 13,24b. In the story of 13:21-31, the narrator relates these two details in 13:22-26: “23 One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus; 24 so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, ‘Tell us who it is of whom he speaks.’ 25 So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ 26 Jesus answered, ‘It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it.’ So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.”

These two details about the disciple whom Jesus loved in 21:20 reveal the important role of this disciple among the group of disciples and in the Johannine community. This disciple is close to Jesus in the supper (13:23); he stands under the cross of Jesus (19:25); he is the first one who “saw and believed” (20:8) in front of the empty tomb; he is the first one who recognizes the Lord when He appears at the Sea of Tiberias (21:7). Obviously, the quality of the relationship between Jesus and the disciple whom Jesus loved is better than Peter’s. But this disciple is not in competition with Peter. Each of them keeps his place and his specific role in the community of disciples.

In 21:15-19, Jesus solemnly establishes Simon Peter as a disciple and a pastor. Peter is presented as a leader of the group of disciples, but in the Johannine community, there are many questions about the mysterious figure of the disciple whom Jesus loved. The question of Peter when addressing Jesus: “Lord, what about this man?” (21:21b) is also the question of the Johannine community. Nevertheless the answer of Jesus to Peter is surprising and mysterious: “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me” (21:22).

    2. The will of Jesus for the disciple whom Jesus loved

The will of Jesus is expressed by himself in 21:22 and repeated by the narrator in 21:23. Jesus’ saying in 21:22a: “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” is misunderstood that this disciple was not to die before Jesus’ return. This “saying spread abroad among the brethren” (21:23a) needs a correction. In fact, Jesus did not say that this disciple was not to die, but the exact words of Jesus were: “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” (21:23b).

The destiny of Peter is evidently announced to him in 21:18-19, but the destiny of the disciple whom Jesus loved is not clear, it depends on Jesus’ will: “If it is my will that…” (21:22a), not on the community’s will. The brethren of the Johannine community want the disciple whom Jesus loved to live with them as long as possible, because he is a great figure of the community. This community’s will was based on a faulty understanding of Jesus’ saying (21:22).

Readers can get a better understanding with the clarification of F. J. Moloney: “The Beloved Disciple is no longer alive, and the community should not wonder at his death. Whatever has happened to the Beloved Disciple is but the fulfillment of the will of Jesus for him. Both Peter (cf. vv. 18-19) and the Beloved Disciple (vv. 22-23) have died.” (F. J. MOLONEY, The Gospel of John, (SPS 4), Collegeville (MN), The Liturgical Press, 1998, p. 557). These two important figures of the community maintain different roles: Peter is established as a pastor. The disciple whom Jesus loved has written his true testimony to Jesus.

    3. Writings and testimony of the disciple whom Jesus loved

By the words of Jesus on the cross (19:26-27), the disciple whom Jesus loved is regarded as a founder of the community. The narrator relates the sequence at Golgotha in 19:26-27: “26 When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ 27 Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” For the Johannine community, the disciple whom Jesus loved is presented with great respect and as the founding figure of the community by the quality of his relationship with Jesus and the quality of his testimony to Jesus. This disciple stands under the cross and bears witness to it. The narrator relates his testimony in 19:35: “He [the disciple whom Jesus loved] who saw it has borne witness – his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth – that you (the reader) also may believe.”

In 21:24, the redactor talks about his writings and his testimony: “This is the disciple [the disciple whom Jesus loved] who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true” (21:24). The dual expression “these things” in “bearing witness to these things” (21:24a) and “has written these things” (21:24b) refers to the fundamental content of John’s Gospel.

When the redactor affirms: “We know that…” (21:24b), on behalf of the Johannine school, he proclaims that the disciple whom Jesus loved “has written these things”. Today, many scholars accept that the disciple whom Jesus loved did not write the whole of Jn 1–20 and the first conclusion in 20:30-31. According to actual composition of John’s Gospel in many stages, we can consider that the base text of John’s Gospel today belongs to the writings of the disciple whom Jesus loved (21:24), who is the leader of the Johannine School. Then one or many members of the Johannine School, called author(s), finished the redaction of the Gospel with the first conclusion in 20:30-31. Finally, one or many redactors, a part of the Johannine School, wrote Jn 21, published the book and circulated the Gospel of John as we have today. Thus, there are three principal stages of the formation of John’s Gospel: (1) Base writings of the disciple whom Jesus loved; (2) Author wrote the first conclusion in 20:30-31; (3) Redactor who was responsible of Jn 21 gave the final text of the Gospel of John that we see today.

IV. Conclusion

The passage Jn 21:20-25 talks about the mysterious destiny of the disciple whom Jesus loved. The redactor explains how the community of disciples could exist without the physical presence of Jesus (cf. 20:29) and the death of the community’s leaders. It is because of the time of the redaction of the Gospel, Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved were dead. In fact, the community still exists and develops because the shepherd’s role of Peter continues with his successors and the disciple whom Jesus loved still remains until Jesus’ return thanks to his writings and his testimony in John’s Gospel.

The disciple whom Jesus loved is an influential figure of the community and an ideal disciple. Readers throughout the ages are invited to follow the model of this disciple as for his intimate relationship with Jesus, the quality of his faith and testimony. Hoping that readers will apply this invitation by studying and meditating the Gospel of John./.


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