27 December 2016

John 21:19-25

"This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true." (v. 24)

Psalm: Psalm 117


In what has been coined a 'post-truth society' it is apt that on this feast day of St John we are faced with the question of how we identify truth in amongst all other forms of information. This is a passage about credibility and authority. It is also about the relationship between Jesus and the people who follow him.

Prior to this passage, Peter has been faced with his final test of character as he has to declare his love for Jesus (John 21:15-18); in a conversation which mirrors Peter's denial of Jesus only a few days previously (John 18:15-27). In the context of Peter's need to rebuild his relationship with Jesus and to restore his apostolic position, it is significant that the discussion about the 'Beloved Disciple' ("the disciple whom Jesus loved" (v. 20)) ensues.

The Beloved Disciple is revealed here to be the disciple John.

There is a hint of a family feud between the trinity of protagonists. Peter having been given the opportunity to redeem himself, then focuses his attention on John and Jesus. There is a sense of competition between the two Apostles, each one vying for Jesus' ultimate blessing and attention. It is Peter who is worse off from this exchange.

Having received Jesus' blessing and a command to follow him, Peter wants to know what will happen to John. In reply, Jesus intimates that Peter should focus on his own discipleship rather than worry about other people or comparing himself to other people (verse 21).

Jesus' reply is characteristically ambiguous, at once suggesting that John might see Jesus' earthly return before his death, whilst at the same time exposing Peter to the challenge of not competing with others.

John is one to be trusted. John is the beloved follower. His witness is both first hand and true. In a Gospel whose themes were unusual: a radical vision of Jesus; the involvement of women as followers of Jesus; a lack of traditional sacramental motifs and models; and an unusual rhetoric surrounding the kingdom of God - it is unsurprising that John requires a reference to attest to his credibility.

To Ponder

  • How do you interpret the relationship between Peter and John? Why might it matter?
  • In your own discipleship, where do you find yourself competing for attention and credibility? How might this passage encourage you?
  • In a post-truth society, how do you check truth claims and testimony?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Joanne Cox-Darling

Joanne Cox-Darling is a Methodist presbyter currently serving in the Wolverhampton Circuit, where most recently she participated in a harvest festival in a farmyard, surrounded by a 'small' dairy herd of nearly 200 cattle. Joanne is the chair of the Christian Enquiries Agency (www.christianity.org.uk) - described by the Archbishop of York as the "possibly the easiest form of evangelism you will ever do".