It is God who calls; human beings answer. The vocation of John and his brother James is
stated very simply in the Gospels, along with that of Peter and his brother Andrew: Jesus called
them; they followed. The absoluteness of their response is indicated by the account. James and John
“were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they
left their boat and their father and followed him” (Matthew 4:21b-22).
For the three former
fishermen—Peter, James and John—that faith was to be rewarded by a special friendship with Jesus.
They alone were privileged to be present at the Transfiguration, the raising of the daughter of
Jairus and the agony in Gethsemane. But John’s friendship was even more special. Tradition assigns
to him the Fourth Gospel, although most modern Scripture scholars think it unlikely that the apostle
and the evangelist are the same person.
John’s own Gospel refers to him as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (see John
13:23; 19:26; 20:2), the one who reclined next to Jesus at the Last Supper, and the one to whom he
gave the exquisite honor, as he stood beneath the cross, of caring for his mother. “Woman, behold
your son.... Behold, your mother” (John 19:26b, 27b).
Because of the depth of his Gospel, John is usually thought
of as the eagle of theology, soaring in high regions that other writers did not enter. But the
ever-frank Gospels reveal some very human traits. Jesus gave James and John the nickname, “sons of
thunder.” While it is difficult to know exactly what this meant, a clue is given in two
In the first, as Matthew tells it, their mother asked that they might sit in the places of
honor in Jesus’ kingdom—one on his right hand, one on his left. When Jesus asked them if they could
drink the cup he would drink and be baptized with his baptism of pain, they blithely answered, “We
can!” Jesus said that they would indeed share his cup, but that sitting at his right hand was not
his to give. It was for those to whom it had been reserved by the Father. The other apostles were
indignant at the mistaken ambition of the brothers, and Jesus took the occasion to teach them the
true nature of authority: “...[W]hoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so,
the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many”
On another occasion the “sons of thunder” asked Jesus if they should not call down fire from
heaven upon the inhospitable Samaritans, who would not welcome Jesus because he was on his way to
Jerusalem. But Jesus “turned and rebuked them” (see Luke 9:51-55).
On the first Easter, Mary
Magdalene “ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
‘They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him’” (John 20:2). John
recalls, perhaps with a smile, that he and Peter ran side by side, but then “the other disciple ran
faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first” (John 20:4b). He did not enter, but waited for
Peter and let him go in first. “Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the
tomb first, and he saw and believed” (John 20:8).
John was with Peter when the first great miracle after the
Resurrection took place—the cure of the man crippled from birth—which led to their spending the
night in jail together. The mysterious experience of the Resurrection is perhaps best contained in
the words of Acts: “Observing the boldness of Peter and John and perceiving them to be uneducated,
ordinary men, they [the questioners] were amazed, and they recognized them as the companions of
Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
The Apostle John is traditionally considered the author of the Fourth Gospel, three New
Testament letters and the Book of Revelation. His Gospel is a very personal account. He sees the
glorious and divine Jesus already in the incidents of his mortal life. At the Last Supper, John’s
Jesus speaks as if he were already in heaven. It is the Gospel of Jesus’ glory.