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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Who Is The Beloved Disciple and the Mother of Jesus in the Gospel of John?

Composing the Gospel
using the Theology of Anonymity

by Lawrence Fox 

Why does the author of John's Gospel not identify the name of the mother of Jesus nor the name of the beloved disciple? 

John painted himself
in his Gospel anonymously
He uses  various expressions: “beloved disciple,” “Jesus’ mother,” “woman,” “mother of Jesus,” and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” with no names associated. The reader of John’s Gospel would have to consult the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke) in order to associate Mary with the mother of Jesus and the name of John with the beloved disciple. So what gives?  

“Who is my mother, brothers, sisters...those who do the will of my Father.” (Mt, 12:48, Mk. 3:35) By using the term "beloved disciple" for himself, John allows all Christian disciples to self-identify with John himself. But he is also showing us his sources in a very oblique and beautiful way.   

The authors of Sacred Scripture have their own peculiar ways of connecting events within their text and identifying their own unique sources, witnesses, and inspiration. Matthew — the tax collector — hones in on two events in the life of Jesus which have to do with money. The other sacred authors do not. 

Mark identifies his source, Simon of Cyrene, as a non-apostolic witness to the crucifixion. “A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.” (Mk 15:21) Connect this identification to Romans 16:13, where Paul greets Rufus, and you realise the Crucifixion of Jesus converted Simon’s family.

Modern Movie Director M. Night Shyamalan routinely put himself in bit parts in his own movies.  Movie Director Peter Jackson shows up in a cameo appearance at the beginning
Movie Director M.Night Shyamalan
played bit parts in his own movies 
of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug  bitting on a carrot.  Many famous painters have obscurely placed themselves or others in a picture.  A new trend is to redo classic paintings replacing the main character with a modern person or superhero.

John is doing the same thing with his gospel.   John is identifying his sources for his contemplative Gospel, but not by name. Instead he uses the terms "beloved disciple" or "mother of Jesus." There are only two people that can fit those descriptions, the author himself and the mother of Jesus, Mary. Those are two key witnesses to his own gospel. John is saying, “I was there. I saw it. I also knew his mother.”   

Jesus said, “Who is my mother, brothers, sisters...those who do the will of my Father...” (Mt, 12:48, Mk. 3:35) John purposely framed the Gospel narrative so that each baptized Christian could insert their own name in the expressions “beloved disciple” and “mother of Jesus” while meditating upon the words of the Gospel. Every Christian by grace is a beloved disciple of Jesus Christ and a child of Mary. And by grace, each Christian is a mother of Christ while nurturing the Word of God in their heart and mind. 

This approach preserves both a literal and spiritual sense to the reading and interpretation of Sacred Scripture. John wanted the reader of the gospel to participate literally in the experiences of himself and Mary, Mother of Jesus. He wanted the Mystical Body of Christ (the Church) to be identified as both disciple and mother. “But the Jerusalem above is free, who is our mother...” (Gal. 4:26) That means the Gospel of John -- inspired by the Holy Spirit -- provides a tremendous vehicle for spiritual meditation and discipleship. Let us look at some examples.

The wedding feast of Cana is a contemplative narrative for those who take the time to watch and listen to it unfold. In it, the evangelist uses the expressions, “Jesus’ mother was there,” and “Woman,” and “His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’” (Jn. 2:1,3,5) The name of Mary is not mentioned which would have been most reasonable. John
The Mother of Jesus
then goes on to say,
“After this He (Jesus) went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and disciples.” Earlier John identifies some of these disciples including: Andrew, Philip, Simon, and Nathaniel. If others disciples were present, John choses not to tell. If the beloved disciple was not present, then the mother of Jesus is a logical source for the story. This does not exclude the memory of the other apostles. 

In the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the authors have no difficulty associating the name Mary with the mother of Jesus. The references are exhaustive and not necessary to identify here. This absence of the name of the beloved disciple and the mother of Jesus is one of those features which makes the Gospel of John unique from the Synoptics. Since this pattern of not identifying the mother of Jesus or the beloved disciple continues throughout the whole Gospel (even to the last paragraph), it is logical to conclude that the same author (John the apostle and evangelist) is responsible for the whole narrative. In addition, the evangelist adds the word “hour” to the Cana narrative, which links the wedding feast with several other key events in the Gospel of John.  

“Woman why does this matter involve you and me, my hour has not yet come.” (Jn. 2:4)  That is Jesus’s response to His mother’s statement,  “They have no wine.” This use of the word, “hour,” combined with not naming John and Mary, connects three events in the life of Jesus of Nazareth: The wedding feast of Cana, the Last Supper, and the Crucifixion and death of Jesus. 

The changing of water into wine -- thanks to His mother’s request -- is the first of Jesus’ miraculous signs, “...and his disciples put their faith in him.” (Jn. 2:11) But the miracle moves Jesus closer to an “hour” coming on Holy Thursday. The Evangelist alludes to this “hour” several times in the Gospel. Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well, “The hour is coming and is already here when man will worship God in spirit and truth.” (Jn. 4:23) Other references to this “hour” are found in John 7:30 and John 12:27. The “hour” arrives at the Last Supper, “It was just before the Passover Feast, Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave the world and go to the Father.” (Jn. 13:1) The “hour” in which men would worship God in Spirit and Truth begins with the Last Supper. 

When Jesus tells his disciples that one of them will betray Him, there is a commotion. The text reads,  “One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, ‘Ask him which one he means.’” (Jn 13:25) Again John is not mentioned by name. 

At this juncture, I want to point out that  what takes place at the wedding feast at Cana -- changing the substance of water into the substance of wine -- precedes a greater miracle at  the Last Supper.  Jesus — through the spoken word — identifies bread and wine as something substantially different. It is now “My Body and Blood.” The synoptic authors also capture that significance, “This is my body...this is my blood.” 

But John captures that significance in  Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse which took place in Capernaum, “My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink...” (Jn. 6:55) Similarly, John connects the wedding feast of Cana with the Last Supper and the crucifixion using the word “hour” and by emphasising the mother of Jesus and the beloved disciple at the foot of the cross without naming them. 

“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that hour on, this disciple took her into his home.” (Jn. 19:25-28) The beloved disciple and the mother of Jesus are not named and John identifies this “hour” -- the death of Jesus on the Cross -- as the hour in which he (John) became the son of the woman who gave flesh to the Eternal Word of God. 
What is interesting about the expression “hour” is that Jesus identifies it as the time and manner in which He will glorify the Father. How does a disciple glorify the Father? Well by obeying the words of Jesus Christ, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him.” (Mt. 17:5, Lk. 9:35, Mk. 9:7) In other words, the beloved disciple glorified the Father by obeying the words of Christ, “Behold your mother.” 

People — especially those who have adopted the “me and Jesus alone spiritually” — wonder where Catholic and Orthodox Christians get the gumption to trust the Mother of Jesus as part of their journey with Jesus Christ. Place yourself at the foot of the cross with the beloved disciple! Listen with your heart to the words of Jesus, and act as John acted. Take Mary into your home! That would help the bewildered Christian to understand Catholic and Orthodox devotion to Mary. 

Since the word of God is something living and alive and Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, a disciple should be able to hear Jesus say again in their own spiritual journey, “Behold you mother.” I understood this point more clearly when a friend told me something privately happened to him at Catholic Mass while he was pondering his relationship to Mary. 

Just before receiving communion, he heard the words of the eucharistic minister, “The body of Christ.” The communicant then says, “Amen.” Afterwards, my friend heard  the words, “Behold your mother.” He didn’t understand the message until one day he read the Gospel of John 19:25-28. He grasped interiorly that he was a “beloved disciple” literally beholding the body of Christ and then Jesus spoke from the cross in the midst of his one eternal sacrifice to the Father, “Behold your mother.”

 I mentioned earlier that the authors of Sacred Scripture use various and unique  methods of connecting events, and identifying sources and witnesses to text. Closing out the Gospel of John is the statement, “This is the disciple who testifies to these things...” What disciple? John the Beloved Disciple, whom we are discussing, is the author of the Gospel of John. The fact that John took Mary into his home  from that hour forward explains to a great degree the  formation of John’s Gospel.  
Why is that? Christian Biblical Scholar Origen (185 -  254 AD) answers the question: “No one can grasp the meaning of the Gospel (of John) unless he has placed his head at the breast of Jesus and unless he has received from Him Mary, who becomes his mother also." (Origen, Commentary on John, 1:6)  

Mary was so receptive to the Word of God that through the power of the Holy Spirit she conceived the spoken Word in her heart and in her Womb. Christians through Faith and Baptism receive the indwelling of the Word of God. Mary in perfect humility conceived the Word of God by grace. 

Christians ponder the Word of God; Mary nurtured and fed Him. St. Paul writes that every gift of God is given for the building up of the whole body of Christ, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1 Cor. 12:7)  The Spirit which overshadowed Mary and the fruit of her womb continues to build up the whole body of Christ.

Luke receives the infancy narratives from Mary. Luke twice in the infancy narratives identifies “Mary, as treasuring these things and pondering them in her heart.” (Lk. 2:33, 2:51) This observation has been made by numerous commentators on the Gospels. 

Matthew’s infancy narrative is written -- so it seems -- from the perspective of Joseph the adoptive father of Jesus. It relates Joseph’s dreams, journeys to Egypt and Bethlehem, his decision not to divorce Mary publicly  and that fact that he is a just man. Again this perspective could have been provided by Mary, the Mother of Jesus to Matthew. The affectionate manner in which Mary speaks about Joseph to her Son at the temple is noticeable, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” (Lk. 2: 48)  Joseph is dead before Matthew begins to write.  

Mathew’s grasp of the person of Joseph is quite interesting. He identifies Joseph not only as a “just man” but as a man of purposeful dreams that allow him to care for the safety of Mary and Jesus. Joseph takes Jesus and Mary safely down into Egypt, safely out again, and for 30+ years provides for both of them while Jesus is “growing in wisdom and grace before God and men” in Nazareth. 

Another Joseph, the son of Jacob in the Old Testament,  is a young man of dreams who is sold into slavery and taken down into Egypt. This Joseph by the grace of God is able to provide for his extended family who come down into Egypt searching for provisions due to a drought. When the Israelites leave Egypt centuries later, they take the bones of Joseph with them. The life of the  New Testament Joseph is a recapitulation of the life of the Old Testament Joseph.

In essence, Matthew sees that Joseph — by providing for Jesus and Mary — parallels Joseph’s care for the family of Israel in the Old Testament. “My son whom I have called out of Egypt.” While Jacob, the father of Joseph in the Old Testament,  adopts Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim,  Joseph, the husband of Mary, adopts Israel, aka Jacob, in the Person of Christ, who is literally a son of Jacob.      

Recall the Patriarch Jacob’s outrage at one of his son’s dreams:  “When he (Joseph) told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you
had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.” (Gen. 37:10)  Such remembering on Jacob’s part sheds light on Luke’s statement in the gospel, “Mary, as treasuring these things and pondering them in her heart.”  Living centuries apart, Jacob and Mary give us insight into Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father. But what does this have to do with the expression by the beloved disciple, “from this hour, taking Mary into his home.”

John opens his Gospel with the revelation, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...” The theological depth of John’s writing illuminates more powerfully the Synoptic Gospels; dispelling any confusion about the divinity of Jesus Christ, true God and true man. John’s Gospel is a scandal to the materialist, to adherents of Gnosticism, Arianism, Judaism, Islamism, and forms of Unitarianism, which all share a confusion about Christ’s human and divine nature. 

From where does John get such insight into the Mystery of Jesus Christ?  Origen says there are two ways to become a beloved disciple. Contemplate the heart of Jesus  — inflamed with divine love.   And take Mary as your mother into your home. 

Mary was so filled with the Word of God that she shared it with the authors of the written Word. Mary helped John to see the mystery of Christ as no other human person could. She is the unnamed source and inspiration within John’s Gospel. She is a named source within Matthew and Luke.  

The mystery of the most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was presented to Mary at the Annunciation. Mary — like no other prophet in the Old Testament — fulfilled the meaning of the words, “The word of the Lord came to the prophet...”  She shared this prophetic gift and inspiration with the son given to her from the Cross, John. 

Bring her home! Today, praying as a beloved disciple all can become children of Mary.  Her gift -- knowledge and love of Christ —  is therefore shared with the entire mystical body of Christ.


  1. Very interesting and fascinating read and thought provoking about why John's Gospel doesn't mention their names.

  2. Thank you. May God continue to bless you in your journey of faith. Lawrence Fox