By Denise Trull
John is the beloved disciple whose inspired pen gave us the cherished and wondrous words dripping with the sweetness of our deep hearts’ joy: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” His is, most especially, the Gospel of the Incarnate God.
Oddly, John was the only apostle who was not martyred. His feast rests quietly between the flaming, martyred glories of St. Stephen and the Holy Innocents during Christmas week. Surely, one who was so beloved, one whom Jesus loved especially for his youthful zeal, would be called to martyrdom - would be so worthy of it. But Jesus willed otherwise.
John. This son of Thunder, as Jesus named him. Whose ambitious mother sought special places at Jesus's side for him and his brother. He was to drink of the cup of suffering but not a martyrdom like his brother James. John was to experience the long, hard loneliness that is the taming of a passionate nature. He was not killed physically, but he “learned obedience from what he suffered."
This beloved disciple, who loved Jesus with a passion powerful enough to follow him all the way to the cross when the other disciples denied and hid - he alone among the apostles was asked to watch his great friend, who understood his fiery nature so well and still loved him, die mocked and bleeding on a cross before his helpless eyes so lacking in thunder now.
John it was who was asked to bear a Mother’s heartbreak right before his eyes at the base of that cross and was to feel a mother’s tears soaked into his tunic. John would always have the aching memory of leaning on the heart of Jesus at the last supper wondering what he would do without him - and then watch that heart get pierced with a lance.
Did John ever remember his own mother’s words, and Jesus’s answer? Did he find the cup bitter that he was so eager to drink when he was young and foolish with thunderous ambition.
Over time that heart was gentled. It lived daily with the Mother of God and learned acceptance from her quiet, daily fiats that still rose to the Father. Together they spoke of the past. They spoke of Him. With tears? With longing? Did they ever wonder together how long it would be until they would see him again? Then she, too fell asleep in the Lord with a final embrace of encouragement.
One by one John’s best friends fell to the sword, to crucifixion, to other tortures and rejoiced in their fate. Home to Jesus at last. Was he a bemused survivor? A man who was to know the long and lonely banishment on the island of Patmos? A man who would taste old age and its particular ache of having no one left who had known the Lord first hand. He had no one to talk to about those blessed Gallilean times. Loneliness engulfed his heart and made it break open in need to God’s love.
This is the another kind of martyrdom. The transformation of a thunderous personality "falling into the ground and dying" slowly, becoming the little Child that inherits the kingdom of Heaven. It is a cup which St. John drank slowly but surely to the very bottom in obedience to his great friend. It is the cup most of us will have to eventually drink ourselves - the long dying. St John will be there to pray for us.
There is a monastic custom on his feast where each monk gets a small glass of wine filled to the top and a toast is raised: “Drink the wine of St. John. God is love.” I think St. John would quietly add his own huzzah glad now his cup is empty!
I do hope the other Apostles greeted him in Heaven after his great exile was over and I like to think that once again they sat around the table and laughed with Jesus, and that John was able to finally rest once more and forever on the Master's breast.