Who is the Beloved Disciple?

Who is the Beloved Disciple?

For Lent I read James Martin’s new book Come Forth: the promise of Jesus’ greatest miracle. In it he focuses on Lazarus and Jesus’ raising him from the dead. Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, appear only in John’s Gospel. And the Beloved Disciple appears only in John’s Gospel. Martin theorizes about Lazarus being the Beloved Disciple and what that might mean to us.

For many scholars the relationship of Jesus to Lazarus, Mary and Martha indicates that friendship was important to Jesus. They speculate that when Jesus needed to be refreshed, he went to their home, outside Jerusalem.  When Lazarus was dying, Martha sent word to Jesus, “He whom you love (hon phileis) is sick.”   At the tomb the onlookers proclaim, “See how he loved him?”

The Beloved Disciple is mentioned only after the story of the raising of Lazarus which stands at the center of John’s gospel. One scholar proclaims, “the raising of Lazarus as the climax of the public life of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel.” After the raising of Lazarus comes a dinner in Bethany at Lazarus’ home and after that comes the Passover dinner when “the one whom Jesus loves” (hon egapa) reclines on Jesus’ chest.

When at the Crucifixion Jesus asked the BD to take his mother, Mary into “his own home”, it suggests a home nearer to Jerusalem—Lazarus’ home where Mary would also receive the support of both Mary and Martha.

The identification of Lazarus as the BD explains part of the story of the empty tomb. When Mary Magdalene announces that the body of Jesus is not in the tomb, Peter and the BD run to the tomb. The Beloved Disciple reaches the tomb first as would a person who lived in the vicinity would have peered n the tomb but does not enter in deference to Peter. When they note the burial clothes and the head covering, we are told that the BD saw and believed. Of course, he would be familiar with burial clothes.

Finally, there is the strange question Peter asks Jesus at the end of the Gospel. After answering three times to Jesus’ question, “Do you love me?” Peter asks about the BD, “What about Him?” and Jesus replied” If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” The question indicates that there is something different about the BD. It would be natural for Peter to wonder if someone who had been raised from the dead would die again.

I’m not sure why it is important to me that the Beloved Disciple be Lazarus. It give me a grater appreciation of the Gospel of John and gives the gospel a human dimension.  It has brought me reflect upon what it means to be a Beloved Disciple who has been called forth from death into new life. And that has been an Easter blessing.