You may know that each of the four Gospels proclaims the Good News somewhat differently. Of the four Gospels, the most different is the Gospel of John. One of the differences is an enigmatic figure often referred to as “the Beloved disciple.” In Jesus’ long farewell address to his disciples during their last meal together (13:1—17:26), the Gospel says that “the one whom Jesus loved was reclining next to him—literally “while leaning on Jesus’ chest (13:23).” This disciple is never named. Most commentators believe that this disciple is John’s example of authentic discipleship; not naming him invites us to see ourselves in him.
On two other occasions, the Gospel also tells us that this beloved disciple’s calling is to “remain.” Early in the Gospel, Andrew and an unnamed disciple, probably the “beloved disciple,” follow Jesus at John the Baptists’ invitation (1:37). After Jesus asks them “What are you looking for?” They say, “Where are you staying?” Jesus says “Come and see.” When they hear that “They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day (1:39a).” At the end of the Gospel, Jesus indicates that the beloved disciple “will remain until I come(cf.21:22-23).”
What if the beloved disciple became an image for our Lenten journey towards more authentic discipleship? How so? First, authentic discipleship is grounded in “leaning on Jesus’ chest.” Discipleship isn’t self-generated; it comes from being sustained by our connection to Jesus. One way we lean on Jesus’ chest is when we eat his body and drink his blood in the eucharist. This is indeed the bread of life and cup of salvation. For two thousand years this meal has been feeding his disciples. Another way we stay close to him is meditating on his life and teaching in the Gospels. How about just sitting with one phrase—“the one whom Jesus loved?” What if you were to repeat as a mantra “I am the one whom Jesus loves.” Authentic discipleship is sustained by this connection and will die without it. Later in John’s Gospel Jesus will warn us of the end result of a disconnected life: “I am the vine you are the branches…apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).”
Secondly, authentic discipleship is “remaining with Jesus.” Authentic discipleship is about being with Jesus wherever he is staying in this world. Where is he staying? According to the Gospels, he is with those have been excluded from society. He is with those who are sick and in need of healing. He is with those who are hungry and need a meal. He is with those who are “dead” and in need of new life. He is with those who are in need of forgiveness. Discipleship is about remaining with Jesus in those places in our world until he comes again to restore all things.
As we stay with Jesus in this world, we begin to realize that leaning on him and staying with him are intimately connected. We begin to realize that when we are with the suffering people of this world we are with him, and that to be close to him is to be drawn to those who are hurting.
Where will you stay this Lent?