“One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was reclining at Jesus’ side.” (John 13:23)
It is widely agreed among biblical scholars that the disciple “reclining at Jesus’ side” is the Inspired Writer himself. Furthermore, it’s understood that, when Saint John uses the phrase “the one whom Jesus loved,” he’s not saying he’s the only disciple Jesus loved, nor is he saying that he’s the disciple Jesus loved best. Rather, Saint John uses this designation to show us that everyone who seeks a love relationship with Jesus Christ is beloved by Him. On the surface, the biblical text at the heart of of this reflection seems simple enough. However, when we look beneath the surface and consider the spiritual sense of verse 13:23, we see a figure detached from the world, keenly aware of the divine Presence and immersed in silent prayer.
We see a disciple who appears to be well advanced in the spiritual life — a follower of Jesus who has reached the heights of holiness to which everyone is called. In other words, John presents the image of one who has found the peace that comes from trust and total abandonment to God’s Providence. He is the image of great love and silent devotion.
When we place our focus verse (John 13:23) within the context of earlier events, we see a sharp contrast between Saint John and the other disciples. For instance, when it’s Saint Peter’s turn to have his feet washed, he adamantly resists. He tells Jesus, “You will never wash my feet” (8). When our Lord answers, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me,” Peter tries to bargain (a form of prayer familiar to most of us); he says, “‘Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well'” (9-10).
Following the washing of the disciples’ feet, Jesus gives a short teaching on being the servant rather than the one being served: “If you understand this, blessed, are you if you do it” (v. 17). Jesus goes on to tell His disciples that, in fulfillment of the Scripture, one of them has turned against Him (cf. 18). This declaration is soon followed by the announcement that one among them will betray Him (18). All but John (and presumably Judas) respond with apparent confusion and uncertainty: “[They] looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant” (22). And this brings us back to our focus verse: “One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was reclining at Jesus’ side” (23). The passage goes on to say that it wasn’t until Peter signaled to him, to discover whom Jesus meant, that John broke his stillness: “He leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to him, ‘Master, who is it?'” (cf. 24-25).
At this point, we might be asking ourselves: How can I find the peace, trust, and abandonment that John possesses — how can I be a disciple that leans into the heart of Christ?
Here are five tools that may help:
- Pray often, speaking less and listening more
- Develop a keen awareness of Christ’s real Presence in the Eucharist — receive Holy Communion often, visit Christ in Adoration, offer Spiritual Communions throughout the day
- Seek Mary’s help in all things
- Turn to Scripture and the lives of the saints for spiritual sustenance and guidance
- Learn about and practice true devotion to the Sacred Heart
What one step can I take today that will effectively move me forward in my spiritual life?
Copyright 2020 Julie Vickery