Pope Benedict XVI- Audiences
John, Son of Zebedee
"The Origin of our Loftiest Spirituality"
H.H. Benedict XVI
July 7, 2006
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
We dedicate today's meeting to recall another very important member of
the apostolic college: John, son of Zebedee, and brother of James. His
name, typically Hebrew, means "the Lord has given his grace." He was
mending the nets on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, when Jesus called
him together with his brother (cf. Matthew 4:21; Mark 1:19).
John is always part of the restricted group that Jesus took with him on
He is beside Peter and James when Jesus, in Capernaum, enters Peter's
house to cure his mother-in-law (cf. Mark 1:29); with the other two he
follows the Master into the house of the chief of the synagogue, Jarius,
whose daughter would be called back to life (cf. Mark 5:37); he follows
him when he goes up to the mountain to be transfigured (cf. Mark 9:2);
he is by his side on the Mount of Olives when before the imposing Temple
of Jerusalem he delivers the discourse on the end of the city and of the
world (cf. Mark 13:3); and, finally, he is close to him when in the
Garden of Gethsemane he withdraws to pray to the Father before the
Passion (cf. Mark 14:33). Shortly before Passover, when Jesus chose two
disciples to prepare the room for the Supper, he entrusts this task to
him and to Peter (cf. Luke 22:8).
This prominent position in the group of the Twelve makes comprehensible,
in a certain sense, the initiative that his mother took one day: she
approached Jesus to request that her two sons, John and James, might sit
one at his right hand and one at his left in the Kingdom (cf. Matthew
20:20-21). As we know, Jesus replied posing a question in turn: he asked
if they were prepared to drink the chalice that he himself was about to
drink (cf. Matthew 20:28).
With these words, he wanted to open the eyes of the two disciples,
introduce them to knowledge of the mystery of his person, sketch the
future call to be his witnesses to the supreme test of blood. Shortly
after, in fact, Jesus clarified that he had not come to be served but to
serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (cf. Matthew 20:28).
In the days following the Resurrection, we find the sons of Zebedee
fishing together with Peter and others on a night without results. After
the Risen One's intervention, came the miraculous catch: "the disciple
whom Jesus loved" would be the first to recognize the Lord and to point
him out to Peter (cf. John 21:1-13).
Within the Church of Jerusalem, John occupied an important place in the
leadership of the first group of Christians. Paul, in fact, places him
among those he called the "columns" of that community (cf. Galatians
Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, presents him next to Peter while they
go to the Temple to pray (Acts 3:1-4,11) or when they appear before the
Sanhedrin to witness their faith in Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 4:13,19).
Together with Peter he receives the invitation of the Church of
Jerusalem to confirm those who accepted the Gospel in Samaria, praying
over them so that they would receive the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 8:14-15).
In particular, we must recall what he said, together with Peter, before
the Sanhedrin, during the trial: "we cannot but speak of what we have
seen and heard" (Acts 4:20). This frankness in confessing their own
faith remains as an example and a warning for all of us so that we will
be ready to declare with determination our unbreakable adherence to
Christ, putting our faith before any human calculation or interest.
According to tradition, John is "the beloved disciple," who in the
fourth Gospel places his head on the Master's breast during the Last
Supper (cf. John 13:21), is found at the foot of the cross close to the
Mother of Jesus (cf. John 19:25) and, finally, is witness both of the
empty tomb as well as the presence of the Risen One (cf. John 20:2,
We know that this identification today is disputed by experts, as some
of them see in him the prototype of the disciple of Jesus. Leaving the
exegetes to clarify the situation, we content ourselves with drawing an
important lesson for our lives: the Lord wishes to make of each one of
us a disciple who lives in personal friendship with him.
To do this, it is not enough to follow and listen to him exteriorly; it
is also necessary to live with him and as him. This is only possible in
the context of a relationship of great familiarity, penetrated by the
warmth of total trust. It is what happens between friends: this is why
Jesus said one day: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay
down his life for his friends … No longer do I call you servants, for
the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called
you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known
to you" (John 15:13,15).
In the apocryphal "Acts of John" the apostle, is not presented as
founder of Churches, not even as guide of a constituted community, but
as a constant itinerant, a communicator of the faith in the encounter
with "souls capable of hoping and of being saved" (18:10, 23:8). He is
impelled by the paradoxical desire to make the invisible seen. In fact,
the Eastern Church calls him simply "the Theologian," that is, the one
who is able to speak in terms accessible to divine things, revealing an
arcane access to God through adherence to Jesus.
Devotion to John the Apostle was affirmed first in the city of Ephesus
where, according to an ancient tradition, he lived for a long time,
dying at an extraordinarily advanced age, under the emperor Trajan. In
Ephesus, emperor Justinian, in the 6th century, built a great basilica
in his honor, of which there still remain impressive ruins.
Precisely in the East he enjoyed and enjoys great veneration. In the
Byzantine icons he is represented as very old and in intense
contemplation, with the attitude of one who invites to silence.
In fact, without proper recollection, it is not possible to approach the
supreme mystery of God and his revelation. This explains why, years ago,
the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras, whom Pope Paul
VI embraced at a memorable meeting, affirmed: "John is at the origin of
our loftiest spirituality. Like him, the 'silent ones' know that
mysterious exchange of hearts, invoke the presence of John and their
hearts are inflamed" (O. Clement, "Dialoghi con Atenagora," Turin, 1972,
May the Lord help us to place ourselves in the school of John to learn
the great lesson of love so that we feel loved by Christ "to the end"
(John 13:1) and spend our lives for him.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father read the following summary
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Continuing our weekly catechesis on the Church's apostolic ministry, we
now consider the apostle John, the son of Zebedee and the brother of
Among the apostles, John appears with Peter and James as part of a
smaller group which accompanies Jesus at significant moments of his
public ministry. After the Resurrection, it was John who recognized the
risen Lord standing on the shore and pointed him out to Peter. Saint
Paul refers to him as one of the "columns" of the early Church in
According to tradition, John is "the beloved disciple" mentioned in the
fourth Gospel, who reclined next to the Lord at the Last Supper, stood
with Mary at the foot of the cross and beheld the empty tomb. As such,
he is a model for all believers, who are called to establish a deep
personal friendship with Jesus. In the Eastern tradition, John is
venerated as "the Theologian" for the depth of his religious and
contemplative vision. By his prayers, may we more fully experience the
mystery of the Father's love revealed in Christ, and respond by offering
our lives ever more generously to him.
[The Pope then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he
My prayerful greetings go to the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth
assembled in Rome for their General Chapter. I also greet the members of
the pilgrimage "in the footsteps of Saint Columban," and the School
Sisters of Notre Dame celebrating their Silver Jubilee. Upon all the
English-speaking visitors present at today's audience, especially the
pilgrims from England, Ireland, Malta, New Zealand, Indonesia, Canada
and the United States, I invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.
©Copyright 2006 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana [adapted]
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