A Face to the Faceless
Dissecting the Last Chapters of the Gospel according to John
The writings of St. John never ceases to amaze me. As early as when I was in the fifth grade, I took a verse from the First Letter of St. John as a cover verse for my journal for my Religion class: "We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in Him" (1 Jn. 4:16).
More inspiring and richer in content is the Gospel according to St. John. A bit different from the synoptic gospels, the Gospel according to St. John is often associated with theological depth and is often symbolized by an eagle because of this. As soon as we open the pages of St. John's version of Jesus's earthly ministry, we read, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (Jn. 1:1). He even holds one of the most quoted verses in the Bible, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life" (Jn. 3:16).
The beauty of his writings lies not only in verses that have depth and those that sound so close to the heart. Nay, the genius that is in the writings of St. John lies in the fact that his Gospel and his epistles provide readers with fresh insights and with new learnings everytime one reads a certain portion of his works. The truly inspired author wrote the words of the Divine Writer so that these can be viewed in many different angles, each of which gives the reader a deeper and more meaningful Gospel experience.
This is the general impression the Gospel passages during the Holy Week gave me. Because of the Gospel passages that are in use in the Catholic liturgy this year, I had the opportunity to compare portions of the Gospel according to John to those from the Gospel according to Matthew.
It all began with the story of Jesus' Last Supper. In what is the last recorded passover meal Jesus had with his apostles, Jesus speaks of his impending betrayal. In the Gospel according to Matthew, one of the synoptic gospels from which the passage during the Palm Sunday was taken, the disciples, upon hearing Jesus's foretelling of the betrayal by one of the Twelve, asked him one by one, "Surely it is not I, Lord?" That is when Jesus gave them a sign. In the same story taken from the narration given by John, Peter signalled John to try to find out who it is, and John asked Jesus like a loving disciple and a friend who it is. In the same manner, Jesus replied with a sign of the one dipping the morsel together with him.
In the story of Jesus's passion, the Gospel of Matthew did mention one man who held a sword and struck the ear of a member of the contingent who arrested Jesus, while St. John clearly identified that man to be Peter. This is then followed by Peter's denial of Jesus three times before the cock crowed. In Jesus's trial, Matthew showed how Pilate was advised by his wife not to harm Jesus because of a dream she had had, and how Pilate had been forced to do so because the pharisees were able to convince the people to ask for the crucifixion of Jesus. John, on the other hand, showed that Pilate, by his own volition realized that Jesus not only did nothing wrong, but also has something true yet mysterious within Him. He was said to have become afraid when Jesus said that His kingdom is not of this world. Pilate even tried to rescue Jesus but was forced to hand him over to the pharisees and chief priest who wanted him dead. In the end, Pilate, in a way, professed his faith (or at least gave his stand) by writing that Jesus is the King of the Jews, and by refusing to change what he had written (either as a tribute to the innocent man that is Jesus, or to get back at the manipulative leaders of the Jews, or both).
Apart from these where I am sure to have seen differences in the narrations of the two evangelists, I also noticed (although I have not admittedly compared John's story with those of the other evangelists) that John maintained the same closeness between Jesus and his disciples, and among his disciples in letting a scene in which Jesus entrusted his mother to the beloved disciple and the beloved disciple to his mother be recorded. Furthermore, John speaks of a beloved disciple who, upon hearing the news of an empty tomb, ran faster than their leader, Peter, but who waited for Peter to go inside the tomb first before going inside. It was this disciple who "saw and believed".
John the Evangelist wrote the Gospel narrative in a way that shows us the human character behind the names. John did not only focus on the facts that happened (that is simply history), but focused more on relationships from which we can learn and which we can emulate. Indeed, upon reading the Gospel passages this week, I can say several things of John the Evangelist and the Gospel according to him:
- St. John is an avid supporter of Peter. Being one of the first four fishers of men, he is closer to the leader of the apostles more than the others are, and have, in several instances, gave deference to Peter as their leader.
- St. John did not hide the fact that Peter committed not just the sin of denial, but also committed the sin of being impulsive by cutting the ear of one of the men who arrested Jesus. In so doing, he balanced Peter's cowardice during denial with Peter's bravery during the arrest. He balanced Peter's timidity with his impulsiveness.
- St. John gave more power to the pharisees by saying that it was they who demanded Jesus's crucifixion directly (with no mention of the people being persuaded by them).
- St. John showed that people who are brought up in a different faith, in a different culture and in a different society still has the capability to know God. He demonstrates this in the person of Pilate who, by his own volition, realized that there is something in Jesus. Whereas Matthew only showed that Pilate knew there Jesus did nothing wrong, John showed that Pilate became a believer when he talked to Jesus. "Pilate tried to release him." (Jn. 19:12)
- St. John believed in a personal relationship with God, as shown in how the disciples dealt with Jesus and in his epistles.
On a personal note, the message of St. John and God to me this season, is to see the good in others. St. John showed us the good that is in Pilate. He showed us the strength that is in the weak leader of the apostles. He showed us how to recognize the people we often hate and dislike.